The coach of Japan's women's soccer team kept his team briefing short before Japan's crucial 1-1 draw against North Korea on Sept. 8.
Instead of a rousing speech or an in-depth tactical briefing, Norio Sasaki showed a compilation of supportive video messages from the Japanese public.
Right at the end of the video they heard a voice described as "a man in his 50s from Saitama Prefecture" tell them: "To believe in yourselves and your teammates without being afraid of making mistakes, that is today's game plan."
It was Sasaki himself, a fact forward Shinobu Ono immediately picked up on. "This is Norio," she shouted, prompting a roar of laughter from the Nadeshiko players.
Sasaki, 53, said the ruse "worked just as I intended," defusing the mounting tension ahead of the fixture.
Nadeshiko Japan secured a draw in the match and qualified for the 2012 London Olympics a few hours later, thanks to Australia's 1-0 victory over China. It will be Japan's fourth appearance at the Olympics and its third appearance in a row.
Japan tops the six-team Asian qualifying group with 10 points from three wins and a draw at the round-robin tournament being played in China. Japan started the tournament with a 3-0 win over Thailand, followed up by a 2-1 defeat of South Korea and a 1-0 win over Australia. Their final match of the six-team round-robin Asian qualifiers is Sept. 11 against host China.
Against North Korea, Sasaki started Nahomi Kawasumi and Yuki Nagasato up front in a 4-4-2 formation.
An even first half ended scoreless. Just before half time, the North Koreans sent in a long ball that bounced awkwardly in front of Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, but Kaihori managed to bat the ball out of harm's way.
North Korea dominated play in the second half, but Japan did muster a chance when Yuki Nagasato headed over the bar in the 62nd minute.
Japan scored against the run of play in the 82nd minute. Yuki Nagasato met a long pass in the North Korean area and stretched to fire a shot at goal. North Korean goalkeeper Jo Yun Mi blocked it, but the rebound caromed in off defender Kim Nam Hui.
The younger North Koreans had been more aggressive throughout and kept up the pressure after the goal. Their efforts paid off in injury time when midfielder Kim took advantage of a missed clearance attempt by Japan defender Yukari Kinga, scoring with a left-foot shot from inside Japan's area to give her team a well-deserved point at a near-empty Shandong Sports Center in Jinan.
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