JSoccer Magazine was pleased to be able to be present at Kobe's Noevir Stadium, for season-opening day of the Nadeshiko League Division 1. The match was INAC Kobe Leonessa v Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara, and this was Nojima's first-ever top flight match.
Readers of JSoccer Magazine will know a little history of Nojima (as we are going to call them - that name is just a bit too long, especially for Twitter!!) and, as a follow-up the latest issue's interview with the club president, Mr. Wataru Yamauchi, we took a special interest in their Division 1 debut.
While the away team managed to hold off their perennial title challenger hosts in the first period, INAC managed a breakthrough in the 52nd minute when Mai Kyokawa pounced on a loose ball in the area to blast home from point blank range. Further goals from Emi Nakajima and Shinobu Ohno put paid to the hopes of the plucky visitors for this game, but there were some good signs and the points will come for Nojima.
After the game JSoccer spoke to team members about their debut in the top flight. Yoko Tanaka, herself a former INAC player, of course, said, "It was a great experience to come back and play in this stadium", and she was given a warm welcome by the home fans before and after the game. Our exclusive pictures - taken by JSoccer, and used courtesy of Nojima - show Tanaka talking to INAC fans after the game.
"Before the game we weren't sure of how the match would go as our opponents are a very good team and, once the game started I think our inexperience showed, but I think we will improve as the season progresses", Tanaka said after the match.
We also spoke to Michelle Pao and the full interview of that encounter is below.
The thing that struck us the most about this match was the love shown before and after to Yoko Tanaka from the INAC fans. The way they greeted their former player was a joy to see and something that often happens in Japan. She was serenaded before the match, and thanked the fans for that, then, after the game, and after all of the action was done - and this after signing numerous autographs from clamouring fans in the stands - Yoko came out quietly, unseen by all cameras except ours (exclusive pictures - please do not use without permission!) and talked with the fans behind the goal.
And so, another season begins and will it bring a season of glory, consolidation or struggle for the new girls on the block? Stay with us as we continue to follow the progress of Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara in 2017.
Post-match interview with Michelle Pao (Nojima Stella and Taiwan)
JSoccer: This was your first game in the Nadeshiko top league. Did you prepare differently from other matches?
Michelle Pao: It was indeed the first game of the season but, no, I prepared the same way that I would prepare for any game.
JS: Did you feel stress before or during this first top flight game? When did you feel the most that pressure?
MP: I didn't feel any stress, really. I was more excited than anything to get into the game (see how warming up pictures, as Pao "warmed up" on the touchline!) and make an impact. When it was 1-0 the pressure was really on to score a goal to even up the game.
JS: Even thought you lost the match you seemed to do well, what do you think was the turning point of the match?
MP: I think that when INAC scored their second goal was the major turning point of the game (although, I believe it was offside!). After that it felt much harder a game to change since they were a very high quality team.
JS: You came on with about 20 minutes to go, how do you feel about blazing a trail for Taiwanese women's football in the top division in Japan?
MP: I feel proud to be able to represent Taiwanese players in Japan... it's an honour to be able to glorify my ancestors. I want to inspire all Taiwanese players, young and old, and show that, with hard work and dedication you can achieve your dreams and goals. It's not been easy to get to the level we in Taiwan are at right now. It has taken all these girls so many hours of work to become the players they are, myself included. I just hope I can inspire Taiwanese players and young athletes around the world that they can do anything they set their mind to.
JS: What aspect of the game was the most difficult?
MP: That was the speed and intelligent play of INAC. They made some very fast and dangerous counter attacks. They have very technical players who are smart with their movement, and make well-timed passes.
JS: Which moment of this first top flight game was the most memorable for you?
MP: That far post header from my teammate's cross just after I came on.
JS: Agreed - we were on our feet in the stand, so close... next up for you is a match against Palestine, for Taiwan in the Asian Cup qualifiers. Is the level very different?
MP: I suspect the level will be very different. Japanese soccer is played at such a high technical level. I don't expect the level in the national team game to be as high as Nadeshiko 1, but it's still going to be a challenge.
JS: Thank you for your time, and good luck for the season!