The Nadeshiko have reached their highest ever world ranking on the back of a run to the Asian Cup final and a clean sweep of friendly wins over Scandinavian powers Sweden, Denmark and Norway in the past 18 months.
“Japan is a really good side,” New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith says.
“They are probably heading into the tournaments as one of the form teams. They’ll be fast, skilful and they will produce some very good football. We’ll have to be at our best to counteract that.”
With just two teams progressing from each group and games against England and Mexico to come, a good start is imperative for New Zealand’s chances of making the quarter-finals.
New Zealand coach John Herdman has described a technically adept Japanese team as “the Barcelona of women’s football” but believes if things come together on the day, his side have the ability to emulate or better an opening 2-2 draw at the 2008 Olympics against a Japanese side that went on to reach the semi-finals.
“It’s going to be really difficult – it’s arguably our toughest game,” Herdman says.
“The players are well aware they have to bring their ‘A’ game and if any one player drops below the required standard we could be in trouble. But, generally, if people stick to their task for the full 90 minutes we could get a result like we did at the Olympics.
“They play a fantastic pass-and-move game. They will have the majority of possession and New Zealand will be fighting and scrapping to stay in the game but hopefully a bit of our quality will come through to take a result.”
Herdman and his coaching staff are sweating on the fitness of midfielder Betsy Hassett, a match-winner in a recent victory over fellow finalists Colombia in Switzerland, and striker Sarah Gregorius.
Hassett has not been able to train since injuring her heel in the win over the South Americans last week while Gregorius is more advanced in her recovery from a hamstring strain but like Hassett will face a fitness test before final selection decisions are made.
The team has just a captain’s run at Bochum Women’s World Cup Stadium before the game and woke on Sunday morning to the news of the Young All Whites drawing with the USA and qualifying for the Round of 16 for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
Aaron McFarland’s men will face Japan in the knockout stages.
FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011
New Zealand v Japan
Bochum, Germany
Monday June 27, 3pm (1am June 28 NZT)
Live on Sky Sport 1
New Zealand: (from) 1-Jenny BINDON (gk), 2-Ria PERCIVAL, 3-Anna GREEN, 4-Katie HOYLE, 5-Abby ERCEG, 6-Rebecca SMITH (c), 7-Ali RILEY, 8-Hayley MOORWOOD, 9-Amber HEARN, 10-Sarah GREGORIUS, 11-Kirsty YALLOP, 12-Betsy HASSETT, 13-Rosie WHITE), 14-Sarah McLAUGHLIN, 15-Emma KETE, 16-Annalie LONGO, 17-Hannah WILKINSON, 18-Katie BOWEN, 19-Kristy HILL, 20-Aroon CLANSEY (gk), 21-Erin NAYLOR (gk).
Coach: John HERDMAN
Japan: (from) 1-Nozomi YAMAGO (gk), 2-Yukari KINGA, 3-Azusa IWASHIMIZU, 4-Saki KUMAGAI, 5-Kyoko YANO, 6-Mizuho SAKAGUCHI, 7-Kozue ANDO, 8-Aya MIYAMA, 9-Nahomi KAWASUMI, 10-Homare SAWA, 11-Shinobu OHNO, 12-Miho FUKUMOTO (gk), 13-Rumi UTSUGI, 14-Megumi KAMIONOBE, 15-Aya SAMESHIMA, 16-Asuna TANAKA, 17-Yuki NAGASATO, 18-Karina MARUYAMA, 19-Megumi TAKASE, 20-Mana IWABUCHI, 21-Ayumi KAIHORI (gk)
Coach: Norio SASAKI
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football.
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