Haneishi Assesses the Women’s World Cup

Mount Holyoke head soccer coach Kanae Haneishi is a former member of the Japanese National Team and played professionally for the United Soccer League’s New York Magic from 2003 to 2010. She’s been closely following the 2011 Women’s World Cup, which is currently taking place in Germany.

Questioning Authority: We’re down to the semifinals of the World Cup, and your native Japan is still one of the remaining teams, along with the U.S., Sweden, and France. What have you thought of the tournament so far?

Kanae Haneishi: It has been an unbelievable World Cup! I played with some of the players on the current Japanese national team when we won the silver medal at the World University Games in 2003, and we know each other pretty well. Moreover, I’m very good friends with one of the managers on the team who also works for the Japanese Football Association (JFA). I have been enjoying seeing her on TV. She actually called me before the World Cup and asked me to videotape the Mexico versus U.S. friendly match. It was played right before the World Cup began, and Japan was going to be in the same World Cup group as Mexico. So I videotaped it and sent to her. By the way, Japan beat Mexico four to nothing!

QA: Given your relationship with the Japanese players and staff, what has it been like for you watching the team advance this far in the tournament and win that amazing quarterfinal game against the defending World Cup champions Germany?

KH: I have been very proud of our Japanese women. Unlike in the U.S., women’s soccer still does not get much support and media coverage in Japan. I heard that people in Japan can only watch the World Cup games with a special channel, at an extra cost, while we have great coverage by ESPN in the U.S. I am really hoping that this amazing accomplishment by the Japanese team will be a significant asset for women's soccer, and women's sports, in Japan.

Quite honestly, I was very surprised about the result as much as I was very excited. When I saw Germany playing against Nigeria in the group stage, I thought they were really strong and would be the number one candidate to win this World Cup, considering they were the host country. I am sure a lot of people were shocked by the result, but that is the beauty of soccer. You never know who will win the game until we play!

QA: In a year when the people of Japan suffered a devastating earthquake and tsunami that resulted in nuclear plant issues, do you have a sense of what impact this happy news--the team's success--is having on the Japanese public?

KH: I am sure that this great news is giving happy energy to the people in Japan who are still dealing with damages from the disaster. I know that one of the JFA facilities in Fukushima (where they did youth development and had national teams' camps) was completely destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami. I heard that the whole facility was underwater. Like I said earlier, I am questioning the media coverage in Japan for this World Cup, but I am sure this great news is helping many people in Japan to keep moving forward.

QA: The U.S. team has also had a magical run. What did you think of the team's big win over Brazil?

KH: Well, that was amazing! It was such a dramatic victory by the U.S. team. Brazil is a great team. I liked the Brazilian team too, but in this game, the U.S. did a better job of showing what soccer is about—namely teamwork and playing to the end. Even after several calls by the referees went against the U.S., they amazingly maintained their composure and just kept believing they could win the game.

QA: Soccer has certainly grown in popularity in the U.S. since the men's and women's World Cups were last held here (in 1994 and 1999, respectfully) but soccer still lags behind basketball, football, baseball, and hockey in terms of being considered a “major” sport here. By comparison, how revered is soccer in Japan? Does it come anywhere close to the passionate following that baseball has developed?

KH: Well, it will be a completely different story when I am talking about women's soccer and men's soccer. Men's soccer is getting very popular in Japan. The professional leagues are successful. A lot of boys are playing soccer nowadays more than baseball. I would say that baseball is still very popular and the top sport in Japan, but soccer is definitely coming close, especially at the youth level. Women's soccer is getting popular too compared to the time when I was small; however, the popularity and the support for women's soccer in Japan is far less compared to what we see here in the U.S.

QA: From your coaching perspective, which of the four remaining teams is the most likely to win the World Cup?

KH: Of course, I want to see the final be Japan versus the U.S., because then I will be happy if either team wins. In reality, I think the U.S. has the best chance to win the World Cup, especially since Germany is out of the tournament now. But we never know in soccer--just remember what happened with Japan and Germany!

From a more professional perspective, I think the U.S. has the most balanced team. Although they do not have a big star player, like Marta in Brazil, who can change a situation by herself, every position on the U.S. team is solid. Soccer is a team sport, so I would say they are the best. France is very strong in offense but their goalkeeper is weak and their defense lacks in speed. I have not seen much of Sweden, but usually Swedish players are skillful with the ball, but I think they lack the experiences to win those big games. Lastly, Japan is a solid team. Now they know that they can beat just about anyone. If they can keep the momentum from the Germany game and play well against Sweden, they have a good chance to win the World Cup! I’d actually say they’re my second pick, behind the U.S., but this might include some personal feeling, too.

QA: Do you think the Japanese and American teams' success will result in more girls playing soccer in both Japan and the U.S.?

KH: Definitely! I just went to a soccer showcase for recruiting over the weekend. There was television set up to watch the World Cup. There were many girls who were so into the U.S. game. Their eyes were so bright!

QA: Anything else you'd like to add about the 2011 Women's World Cup?

KH: Well, I should mention that all of Mount Holyoke’s soccer players, including incoming first years, picked a team to follow during this World Cup. They have been posting their comments about their team and players on a Facebook page. One of those incoming players is a goalkeeper who said the U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is her role model! Another incoming player who is from Brazil posted a comment after the U.S.-Brazil game, and said that even though her home country lost, she thought the game was awesome because both teams played really well. I also had several former and current players contact me during the Japan-Germany game. We all know how great soccer is and what soccer can bring to people. MHC soccer will welcome 14 new players this year, in addition to most of the regular starters who are returning. With the excitement from this World Cup, I am confident that we will do well this year! Please check the athletics website for our schedule.