Thursday 19th will be a big event for French feminine football with the welcoming at Paris (Stade Charléty) of the Nadeshiko, that is nothing else than the Japanese World Champions ! This will be the very last "warming up" match for both teams before the beginning of the Olympic Games only six days later.
That will be the 6th time that France and Japan meet, the first one since August 2009.
The very first meeting between those two "blue" nations was in 1991 in Varna (Bulgaria) and France won 3-1. Eight years later (1999), Japan took its revenge (1-0), on French field this time and still as a friendly match. In 2002, same conditions and a new victory for France (1-0). Then, in 2003, the two teams met in Concord (Usa) before 100 people only (imagine that today !), and the match ended with a draw (2-2), after France led 2-0 thanks to two goals scored by its striker Marinette Pichon (who was a Philadelphia Chargers player at the time).
The last meeting was on August 1rst 2009 and Japan crucified France at home (at Montargis) by 4-0 with goals by Ohno, Ando, Kinga and Yamaguchi. Many players who were present that night will be on the field next Thursday : Bouhaddi, Franco, Georges, Meilleroux, Bussaglia, Soubeyrand, Thomis, Thiney, Le Sommer, Necib on French side ; Kaihori, Kinga, Iwashimizu, Sameshima, Kawasumi, Nagasato, Ando, Maruyama, Yamaguchi, Ohno on Nadeshiko's… Bompastor played in 2002 and 2003 but not in 2004. Abily never met Japan. Miyama played in 2003 but not in 2004, and Sawa played in 2002 and 2003, not in 2004. Amongst the "new" players on both sides (who never met the other side) are Renard, Délie and Catala (France), Kumagai and Iwabuchi (Japan).
Japan never welcomed France.
Japan played all the WC tournaments since the first edition in 1991 and improved a lot with time passing. Just think that in 1991, the team lost 0-8 against Sweden and 0-3 against Usa ! They were in QF in 95, but didn't win a single match in 1999 with two heavy losses. The Nadeshiko couldn't go through the first round in 2003 nor 2007, with only two victories in six matches, each time against Argentina.
And came 2011… We all know the wonderful story with the three historical victories in a row (Germany in QF - 1-0 a.e.t., Sweden in SF - 3-1, Usa in finale - 2-2 a.e.t., 3 penalties to 1), only some weeks after the triple tragedy in Japan (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear). Who can forget Saki Kumagai' s extatic joy after she scored the decisive penalty against Hope Solo ?
As far as Olympic Games are concerned, Japan finished last of its group at 1996 Atlanta games, was not present at Sydney 2000, ended last again at Athens 2004. At Beijing 2008, Japan finished 3rd in its "deadly" group, went through, caused sensation when beating the Chinese hosts in QF (2-0) but failed against USA in SF (2-4). They missed the Bronze Medal, defeated by Germany (0-2).
So, as we can see today, those Olympics in Beijing was the real start for the Nadeshiko.
France played only twice at a WC tournament. In 2003, they went back home after the first round and some regrets (one defeat against Norway 0-2, then one victory against South Korea 2-0, before ending with one draw with Brazil 1-1). Les Bleues were back eight years later, in 2011 Germany WC and went up to SF after having beaten England at penalties in QF (1-1 a.e.t), a real performance. Defeated by USA 1-3, they lost the 3rd place match against Sweden 1-2.
French feminine national team never played the Olympic Games before the London edition. Therefore, the coming event will be a great moment !
French men national team won the Gold Medal in 1984 at L.A. by defeating Brazil (2-0).
If France's improvement is less spectacular than Japan's, it's real anyway. The fact that 90% of the team is built around Lyon players make Les Bleues a respected national team, since Lyon has played the last three Champion's Leagues and won the last two against German teams (Potsdam, then Frankurt in Munich in front of more than 50 000 people).
Even if Japan and France have different characteristics, both teams played with the same spirit : priority is given to collective playing, ball possession, technical skills, speed. We could add a mental strength, obvious for the Nadeshiko but present amongst les Bleues too, mainly with players like Bompastor, Abily or Bussaglia.
Both coaches are men (Bruno Bini and Norio Sasaki), both very quiet and smiling persons.
In their first stage group (F) at OG, Japan will play Canada, Sweden and at last South Africa.
France (group G) will meet USA, North Korea and then Colombia.
France and Japan could meet as soon as the QF (if Japan wins its group and France finishes 2nd of its).
They may meet in SF if they both go through the first round as the best 3rd or finish both at the 2nd place.
The only way to have a Finale between the current World Champions and the French contenders would be to see them winning their respective groups… After what, they'll probably have to get rid of Usa and Sweden for Japan, Canada then Brazil for France…
A long way to go… Will be Thursday's match a rehearsal of what could happened on August 9th at Wembley ?
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