FRANKFURT, Germany, July 13, 2011 (AFP) - Japan coach Norio Sasaki has said memories of the earthquake-tsunami which devastated his country in March is helping motivate his players ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against Sweden at the women's World Cup.
Japan are in the last four for the first time in their history following Saturday's shock 1-0 quarter-final win over Germany and they now face the Swedes in Frankfurt for a place in Sunday's final.
Before the Germany game, Sasaki showed his team images of the devastation in north-east Japan, hit hardest by the tsunami and earthquake on March 11, and midfielder Aya Miyama said the players were all moved by what they saw.
|AFP - Japan coach Norio Sasaki addresses the media during a press conference on July 12, 2011 in Frankfurt on the eve of the semi-final Japan vs Sweden|
"We've seen these pictures every day since March 11 and it touched something deep in our souls to see those pictures again before the game," she admitted.
Sasaki said his players want to beat Sweden to face either the USA or France in the final to give something back to Japan.
"We showed the slides before the German match to bring some mental stability and heart to the players," he said, but he will not use them again before the semi and hopes his team's exploits will inspire people back home.
The football team's success has knocked baseball and sumo off the back pages of Japanese newspapers and captain Homare Sawa said the victory over Germany had spurned the team to want to go further.
"The win over Germany was huge for our self-esteem. It is just about resting now and getting the body into shape, no more motivation is needed," said the 32-year-old.
"This is the biggest result for the Japanese team in history.
"As players, there is nothing much we can do for Japan, but we want to do as well as we can to help our country."
After each World Cup game, the Japanese unfurl a banner to show their appreciation for the support their country has received after the disaster and Sasaki said his players want to play well by way of saying thank you.
"We are so grateful for the support," he said.
"We want to give something back to Japan on the pitch now."
Sweden beat Australia 3-1 on Sunday to reach the last four and with only a few days rest between games, Sasaki said it now comes down to who wants to reach the final the most.
"Sweden played a day later than Japan so both teams are playing under tough conditions, we are tired, but we won't be more tired than Sweden," he said.
"The one who wants to reach the final the most will win it, it is a mental thing now and that is what will make the difference.
"I believe in my players and if they play like they did against Germany in order to bring hope to Japan, it will be a very good match."
Having reached the semi-finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but finished fourth after losing the play-off to Germany, Sasaki says his team have toughened mentally.
"We reached the semi-finals in Beijing, but only finished fourth, the other three teams really wanted to get the gold, but the Japanese were just happy to be there," he said.
"It's not enough to just be glad to have reached the semi-finals.
"The players have said they want more and we'll see tomorrow just how much they want to reach the final."