Wednesday 19 February 2020, 08:00

Takakura: I'd be lying if I said there was no pressure

  • Asako Takakura will lead the hosts at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament

  • Last year’s Women’s World Cup represented a steep learning curve

  • Japan’s coach talks us through the ‘must-dos’ for fans visiting the Olympic Games

Tokyo is one of the most-visited cities in the world. Along with New York, London, Paris and Bangkok, it is a city that has a huge pull on tourists from across the globe. This year will see many more visitors descend on the city, but for a sporting purpose: the 2020 Olympic Games.

Asako Takakura, a native of Fukushima (around 150 miles north of Tokyo), will be hoping she has a stay to remember in her nation’s capital. As coach of the Nadeshiko, hosts at Tokyo 2020, her goal will be to reach the gold medal match at the Olympic Stadium on Friday 7 August. After a tough learning curve for a young squad at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, Takakura’s troops have their focus firmly on this year’s Olympics. sat down with the former midfielder and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup-winning coach to discuss last year’s “disappointing” World Cup, and welcoming the world to Japan for Tokyo 2020.

Japan Portraits - FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 It is perhaps best to put France 2019 in the context of a learning experience for a young Japan side with more than half of your squad aged under 23. What lessons did you take from your first experience as a head coach at a senior World Cup?

Asako Takakura: It was my first time coaching at a senior World Cup, but I didn’t focus on that aspect of it. I just wanted to help the team win. Of course, we went to the World Cup with the aim of winning the title, but things didn’t quite go as I’d hoped. However, the players experienced playing at a major tournament, and our defeats clearly revealed what we were lacking as a team. That was the main thing we gained.

Our results at the World Cup were bitterly disappointing for the players, the coaching staff and me personally. We got some clarity about the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and we made a fresh start.

How is the squad shaping up for the Olympics? Do you feel personal pressure to succeed as hosts?

Of course, we must work on many things as we build toward the Olympic Games. I personally don’t really feel any pressure at the moment, but as the tournament gets closer, I think the team will get more attention and I’ll feel some expectation to succeed.

I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure, but I think it’s important to do my best and ensure the players, and I, don’t forget to enjoy our football.

The host cities, according to Takakura

Sapporo: A beautiful city

Yokohama: A great vibe, always fun to walk around and soak that up

Tokyo: Plenty of fun things to do

Wherever visitors go, I’m sure the Japanese people will warmly welcome everyone.

Tokyo 2020 | Japan

What is a ‘must-do’ for fans visiting Japan?

Well, Japanese food is delicious of course, and I think people will try sushi while they’re in Japan. The other Japanese foods that my foreign friends like are yakitori and okonomiyaki and I personally love shabu shabu, so I recommend giving those a try.

And apart from the food, just walking around the city streets is fun, so definitely do that. Also, Japan has many karaoke venues, so go along and sing some songs!

Regarding the Olympics in general, of course it’s unique in that it has so many disciplines all in one place. What Olympic Games memories stand out for you?

I participated at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, which was the first time women’s football had featured at the Olympics, so that was very memorable for me.

At that tournament, the Japanese women’s team didn’t have much chance of winning but in recent times, Japanese teams and athletes have improved in various sports, and they have a better chance of winning medals. I think that’s been a change. I like watching track and field events, especially the 100 metres. It’s thrilling to watch the athletes that get only one shot at glory.