Halfway through the women's Olympic soccer semifinal on Aug. 6, Japan goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto started losing her patience.
Facing down a seemingly endless wave of attacks from France, the 165-centimeter goalkeeper counted down the minutes until she could be sure Nadeshiko Japan had clinched at least a medal.
But time had slowed to a crawl, and no matter how often she checked the clock, the seconds refused to tick off any faster.
"The time isn't going down," she told herself despairingly.
And when France scored a goal 31 minutes into the second half to reduce Japan’s lead to just one, the end of the match at Wembley Stadium in London suddenly seemed a lifetime away.
Fukumoto was under constant fire from the French side after Japan expanded its lead to 2-0 four minutes into the second half. Now desperate to get on the scoreboard, France switched its tactics from passing plays to taking frantic long shots on Japan's goal.
But Fukumoto kept them at bay.
She blocked a shot fired one-on-one eight minutes into the second half and saved another powerful volley 18 minutes later with an impressive sideways jump.
Despite France’s 27 shots, Fukumoto defended Japan’s lead until the end.
The Japanese players rallied around their goalie as soon as the final whistle came--after four agonizing minutes of extra time.
"The fact that everybody ran to her right after the match says it all," said defender Azusa Iwashimizu, crediting Fukumoto with Nadeshiko Japan’s victory.
Japan's defense worked well.
Midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi and defender Saki Kumagai together produced solid defense in set pieces by flanking opponents who measured more than 180 centimeters.
France’s incessant attacks forced Japan to concentrate on playing defense for most of the second half, but the team managed to fight on because of their desire for a medal, according to midfielder Homare Sawa, a core member of Nadeshiko Japan since 1993 and captain of last year's World Cup champion team.
In the Beijing Games four years ago, Japan lost to the United States in the semifinals and was unable to win a bronze.
Eight of the 11 starters in this match remembered what it was like being unable to bring home a medal. All the members of the team vowed not to let it happen again.
"We shared the same resolve, that we would get a medal," said Kumagai, who was not on the squad in Beijing.
In a news conference after the match, foreign media reporters joked with Japan coach Norio Sasaki, asking if the team would be flying back to Japan in business class, since at least a silver was secured.
The team rode in premium economy class when it flew to Europe on July 16 to prepare for the Games, while the men’s team rode up front in business class on the same flight despite having won no title in a major competition.
"We don't mind that kind of thing. Isn't it plain to see if you watch our matches? Patience is Nadeshiko's strength," Sasaki said with a grin.
- « Prev
- Next »