Coach urges Japan to be 'aggressive' against N. Korea in Olympic showdown

AFP , Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

Coach Futoshi Ikeda promised Japan would be "aggressive" against North Korea as they look to qualify for the Paris Olympics in a winner-takes-all women's football showdown in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Futoshi Ikeda
Japan's head coach Futoshi Ikeda speaks during a press conference ahead of the final qualifier for the Paris Olympic women's football tournament against North Korea at the National Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Tokyo. Photo: AP

 

The two sides drew 0-0 in Saturday's first leg on neutral ground in Saudi Arabia and the winners will claim one of two Asian berths at the Games.

Ikeda said the match at Tokyo's National Stadium will be "like a final" but he warned his players that they will need to play hard against a physical North Korea side.

"Of course, we need to score to win the game, and to score we need to be aggressive going forward," he said on the eve of the game.

"I want all the players to be more careful with their positioning than they were in the first leg.

"North Korea will play long balls and we need to make sure we win those second balls."

The first leg was played in Jeddah after Japan's football association asked Asian officials to move it from Pyongyang over a lack of operational transparency and a scarcity of flights.

The venue was not confirmed until just days before the game and Japan captain Saki Kumagai criticised officials for leaving it so late.

Ikeda said there were "all kinds of uncertainties" going into the first leg but praised his players for the way they handled it.

"All the players and staff were able to focus on the game," he said.

"I think the Japanese players' ability to adapt and maintain concentration is excellent and a real strong point."

Japan won the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics but they missed out on qualification for the Rio Games four years later.

They were eliminated in the quarter-finals at the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

North Korea returned to international football at last year's Asian Games for the first time since before the pandemic and lost 4-1 to Japan in the final in Hangzhou.

Ikeda said he felt "a feeling of anticipation" heading into the game.

"It's not about what we can lose -- if we win it will be a big celebration and I'd rather focus on that," he said.

"We want to make the people of Japan happy and feel that sense of achievement."

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