Japan Faces Upstart England in Women's World Cup Semifinal

Coach Norio Sasaki can say whatever he wants in suggesting his Japanese players are superior to England's.

Coach Mark Sampson would prefer to see that decided on the field Wednesday, when his upstart Lionesses face the defending champion Nadeshiko in the Women's World Cup semifinal. The winner advances to face the United States in the final at Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday.

Pausing for five seconds after being informed what Sasaki had told reporters earlier Tuesday, Sampson began by saying he expects a game of contrasting styles.

"We'll have to appreciate and respect the quality they've got technically," Sampson said. "But we've got some half-decent players technically ourselves."

They've been more than half-decent enough to get sixth-ranked England this far in making the nation's deepest run in four tournament appearances.

"We've upset the apple cart so far," Sampson said, in noting how England has won four straight, and coming off a 2-1 win over host Canada. "We know we've made life very difficult for every one of or our opponents. And that'll be our intention tomorrow."

It's also not lost on England that they're 1-0-2 in their past three meetings against Japan. And that includes a 2-0 win in the 2011 World Cup preliminary round in Germany.

"They are the world champions, and we have to respect that," midfielder Jill Scott said. "But we have beaten them before, so why not again tomorrow?"

Sasaki is aware Japan has never beaten England since he took over as coach in 2008. And yet, he believes that's about to change.

"I don't think the players are overconfident. But it seems that the coach is overconfident because we lost last time," Sasaki said, referring to himself, through a translator. "In terms of the stamina, both teams will have a tough game. But even with the conditions, I think the Japanese players are superior."

The fourth-ranked Nadeshiko are 8-0 in World Cup play since losing to England.

They've rolled through this tournament with an efficient, ball-control, creative passing style that relies on patience and teamwork that's effectively worn down opponents. That was the case in their 1-0 win over Australia in the quarterfinal on Saturday, when Mana Iwabuchi subbed in and scored in the 87th minute.

"I think we can probably do that, or we can probably do even better than we did against Australia," Sasaki said, before looking ahead to the championship game. "So we will definitely go back to Vancouver, I believe that."

Here's a number of things to look out for as the two nations meet for only the second time in World Cup play:

OHNO IN EDMONTON: Japan forward Shinobu Ohno was reminded that she scored three goals at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium during the Under-19 world championships in 2002.

"That was a long ago, so I really don't remember that," Ohno said through a translator.

Sasaki then interjected and said he expects Ohno to score, because that's the reason he selected her to attend the news conference.

"Well, I'll try hard," she said.

SPOILSPORTS? After spoiling Canada's bid to play the semifinal on the nation's birthday, Sampson isn't sure what type of support England will receive from its Commonwealth cousins.

"We're more than happy to play that pantomime villain role, but I really hope not," Sampson said. "Maybe the neutrals might start to support an England, who are certainly the rank outsiders of this tournament at the moment."

CYPRUS BOOST: Sampson credits the Lionesses winning the Cyprus Cup in March as providing an invaluable boost to his team entering the World Cup.

"We had to win it," Sampson said. "If we didn't win that tournament, we wouldn't have had the belief and confidence to compete here, and the belief we could win this tournament."

England went 3-0-1, with a tie against the Netherlands, and beat Canada in the final.

Since opening the Cyprus Cup on March 3, England is 8-1-1, with its lone loss coming against third-ranked France in the World Cup opener.

FAMILY FEUD: Sasaki revealed that his son-in-law Mike — he and the team didn't provide a last name — is from England.

"So we actually have sort of a fight within our family," Sasaki said with a smile.

The coach's family is traveling with the team, including his son-in-law, who is married to his daughter Chihiro. The two live in Japan.

AIR MILES: England has certainly seen plenty of Canada over the past month. With their stop in Edmonton, the Lionesses will have played in four time zones and five of the six host cities — with the exception of Winnipeg, Manitoba — since opening with two games in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Japan, in comparison, is playing its second consecutive game in Edmonton after playing three times in Vancouver and once in Winnipeg.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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