Saturday 22 October 2016, 02:04

Emotional Nagano talks pain, prizes and penalties

For Fuka Nagano, it was all too much.

Japan's captain thought her FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup story was at an end, and that defeat on penalties to Korea DPR represented the final page. Little did Nagano realise, as she wiped away the tears, that there was a to be a further twist to her already-remarkable tale.

That came when the midfielder, who won this tournament in 2014 and had become the first player to participate in two finals, was named Jordan 2016's outstanding player. Richly deserved though the award was, the honour seemed to serve only to further overwhelm her. For this, as she explained to, was not the conclusion that she envisaged.

"All I had been thinking about was lifting the World Cup trophy, about leading my team-mates up as captain to do that," she said. "The Golden Ball was never my dream and, beyond that, I really didn't expect to win it.

"Having said all that, it really does mean a lot to me. There just were a lot of emotions for me so soon after the final whistle and I didn't feel prepared to receive this kind of news. Now it has settled in, I do feel very proud. And although I wasn't able to win the trophy I wanted most with my team-mates, I feel this is also down to them and the way we played together at this tournament - and the way they helped me play. I feel so grateful to everyone in this team - coaches, staff, team-mates - because I have had so much support from them. Without that support, there is no way I would have won this award."

The problem was not the penalties; it was the fact we allowed the game to go to penalties. The fault is the team's.

Though the dust had settled and the tears dried by the time Nagano uttered these humble words, she remained at a loss to explain Japan's defeat. And no wonder. The midfielder had previously known only success at this tournament, with Japan having won all of 11 of the matches in which she had played prior to this final - by an astonishing aggregate scoring 40-3. Yet the irresistible Japanese force met in Korea DPR a tuly immovable object, and 90 goalless minutes ensured that someone had to play the villain. Sadly for Rio Kanekatsu, that someone proved to be her.

"I talked to Rio, of course, and I told her that she is not responsible - not at all," said the skipper. "I really meant it too. The problem was not the penalties; it was the fact we allowed the game to go to penalties. The fault is the team's, and it is shared, because we didn't do enough during the 90 minutes to win the match. When a match goes to penalties, you know it's down to luck who wins and loses."

Even in blaming the team as a whole, Nagano could be considered a little harsh. She and her team-mates had played well after all, dominating a high-quality final to the extent that they were praised to the hilt afterwards by the coaches of both teams. It took the highlighting of Naoki Kusunose's words, specifically his description of their showing as "very satisfying", for the Japan captain to see her team's performance - and campaign - in a more positive light.

"I do think we were unfortunate not to win," she said. "We lost to Korea DPR in the Asian Championships but this was a completely different match. We have improved a lot since then and I think we have performed very well at this tournament. We're all extremely sad that it hasn't brought us the victory we wanted but I do think we can be proud of the football we played here in Jordan.

"We didn't win the trophy this time but I definitely think we've left a good impression of Japanese football. We showed that we are a team that likes to play good football, with respect for our opponents, and I think the people here have enjoyed that a lot."

Indeed they have, and with good reason. If Japan's players, and Nagano in particular, continue to play with the style they have shown here, you can bet that theirs is a story only just beginning.