- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Norio Sasaki can crack a joke with the best of them, and Japan’s coach sure seems at ease leading the defending Women’s World Cup champions into the knockout stage.

He teased the large crowd of Japanese media clicking frames at his every word that they’re giving away too many team secrets to the opponents.

When it comes to packing his bag, no chance he’s thinking about going home this soon.

“We’re not packing for Japan, we’re packing for Moncton - oh, oops, Edmonton,” he said through an interpreter of the next Canadian city on the list if the Nadeshiko keep playing.

Japan joined Brazil as the only teams to win all three group-stage games, and now it will face the Netherlands on Tuesday night at BC Place. The winner advances to the quarterfinal against Australia on Saturday at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

Don’t expect the Dutch to back down. They want to prove they belong with the best in the world in women’s soccer.

“These are the exact matches we love to play: a large podium, a huge crowd,” coach Roger Reijners said. “This is probably the biggest one that they’ve played up to now. We have put a goal in our heads and it means that we need to win as many as you can win. The more the better. If tomorrow if things go well we’ll know exactly where we stand.”

This match will feature a splash of youth and experience: Japan’s Homare Sawa is playing her sixth and final World Cup, while 18-year-old Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema is an emerging world star.

Group C winner Japan returns to BC Place for its third game in four at this World Cup, having beaten Switzerland and Cameroon in Vancouver. The team opted to train Monday at the University of British Columbia rather than at the stadium.

Reijners announced that defender Anouk Hoogendijk won’t play Tuesday because of a knee injury.

Here are some other items of note heading into Tuesday’s round of 16 matchup:

OLYMPIC BID, PLEASE: First-timers on the World Cup stage, the Netherlands has bigger plans if it can get past Japan. The Dutch are playing for an Olympic bid and a trip to Rio de Janeiro for next summer’s tournament.

Not that anything will come easily - and they realize it.

“We know what’s waiting for us if we beat Japan. We would make it into the Olympics,” defender Mandy van den Berg said. “For us that would be fantastic. It’s going to be a great game. There’s something wonderful if we make that goal and have our ticket into the Olympics. We’re hungry.”

TEDDY BEAR TRIBUTE: A white teddy bear wearing an oversized No. 7 jersey can be seen on the Japan bench or in the arms of a player during introductions or the anthem as tribute to a teammate who went down. It honors Kozue Ando, who broke her left ankle in the World Cup opener against Switzerland in Group C play when she got caught up with Swiss goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann and left in the 32nd minute.

“In the locker room I talked with Ms. Ando using the phone line and she was able to hear me, and I was able to hear her voice, and the white teddy bear is a substitute for her,” midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi said. “We don’t have any problem, we have her.”

While Ando returned home to Japan, her teammates keep her close at all times.

“Injured Kozue Ando’s heart and spirits are at the bench with teammates,” defender Aya Sameshima posted on Facebook along with photos of the bear.

UNFAMILIAR VENUE: Unlike the Japanese team, the Netherlands has yet to play at BC Place. The Dutch have faced a raucous crowd, however, playing host Canada to a 1-1 draw last Monday in Montreal to advance from Group A in third place.

The Netherlands has created ample chances on the attack but has scored only two goals so far, getting one from Lieke Martens in its opening 1-0 win against New Zealand, and Kirsten van de Ven’s equalizer in the 87th minute of the draw with Canada.

GOALS: Japan has had four goal scorers so far. Aya Miyama converted on a penalty kick in the first half of an opening win, Aya Sameshima and Yuika Sugasawa scored against Cameroon, and then Yuki Ogimi in a 1-0 victory against Ecuador.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide