Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Hail the Nadeshiko: France 1 Japan 2: Women's 2012 Olympic Football Semi-Final, Wembley Stadium

Japan's women footballers are called 'the Nadeshiko' after the delicate mountain flower. But the Japanese lady in the seat next to me proved no shrinking violet, writes Paul Coleman
 She'd shriek - making my eardrums wince - whenever a Nadeshiko hared towards the French goal. Later, like a child hiding behind a door as a scary film plays on TV, she'd half-cover her eyes with her Hinomaru (Rising Sun) fan each time the frantic French swarmed Japan's battle-scarred penalty area. 
 In battle terms, this pulsed with a second-half siege, punctuated by pulsating goalmouth action, roared on by over 61,000 souls at Wembley Stadium.
 With just 12 minutes left on the clock, France's Elise Bussaglia wished  Wembley's lush turf would open and swallow her. Shocked and appalled, she'd just stroked her penalty kick wide of the post (below). Unbelievably, the Nadeshiko still clung precariously to their slender 2-1 advantage.
The Nadeshiko in their blue shirts proved obdurate and highly disciplined. Look at the way they tightly marked the white-shirted French at corners (below). These braves hurled their bodies in the way of 27 dangerous French netbound shots and headers. And, when they were finally beaten, their previously nervous kitten-like goalkeeper, Miho Fukumoto, dived low to her left to miraculously prevent a French equaliser with her fingertips.
Four minutes of fever pitch added time ended when the Mexican referee blew the final whistle. Never has a referee borne such a beautiful name; Quetzalli Alvarado.
 France's exhausted musketeers - including the heartbroken Bussaglia - collapsed and sobbed tears of despair into the Wembley turf as a huddle of relieved Nadeshiko  cavorted - fittingly - in their own penalty area. The Japanese lady beside me celebrated with a smile wider than Wembley's famous arch (top).
 And 61,000 of us left England's majestic national stadium with alternate chants of 'Nippon Nippon' and 'Allez Les Bleus' ringing in our ears.
 Both Japan and France's footballers did themselves, their countries and the sport of women's football very proud indeed.
 My ears have since recovered but Bussaglia will sadly always suffer recall of her tragic penalty miss. 
Good luck to the Nadeshiko in Thursday's Olympic Gold Medal final against the USA.

 Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2012

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, July 2012

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