CHELSEA LADIES: ALL SET FOR THE FINAL
As they prepare for the International Women's Club Championship final in Japan on Sunday, Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes and captain Yuki Ogimi have given their verdicts on what is to come.
The Blues face Japanese champions INAC Kobe Lionessa at Ajinomoto Field in Tokyo tomorrow afternoon having beaten Australian's Sydney FC in Wednesday's semi-final.
Hayes believes we will be underdogs against a side she thinks can inspire her younger players to strive for higher levels, but looks forward to testing the group in front of a sell-out 7,000 crowd.
'We have had good preparation this week,' she said. 'We've had a chance to train a few more times since our first game but we are the underdog and look forward to coming to a packed stadium. We have an English style and hopefully we can give a good game to the fans.
'We have a lot of players who play for their country and are used to playing in front of large numbers, but for our younger players I am sure it will be a new experience, but nonetheless they are used to representing a big club like Chelsea and this is part of the expectations they have to manage. There is no pressure on them though, we are the underdogs going into this game and I want them to go and express themselves.
'For us it means everything to come to Japan. Not only do we have one of the best players in the country in Yuki, but if I talk about playing with a similar Japanese style for our players, there is no better experience than coming here and playing against their best team,' Hayes continued.
'I have a lot of respect for INAC, they have top players, World Cup winners, and are national champions. There's a huge respect for them but we have to play our own game, and we have players of great quality who can cause them problems.
'They are great role models for our younger players, and this is a tournament we expect to be coming back to one day, as champions of England.'
Ogimi believes the squad has developed in the short time it has been together, having only departed Heathrow for the Far East a week ago, and played its last competitive game at the end of September.
'I feel the team grew in the 90 minutes of the last match,' said the 26-year-old Ballon d'Or nominee. 'Coming to Tokyo and practising, I feel the combinations are better than in the last game and I am sure we will grow again in the next game.
'I haven't seen many INAC games recently so I can't give details, but they're a strong team and have strong points, but there are weak points too and maybe we can take advantage of that.'
The final will be the conclusion of a week's intensive work, which Hayes says has been fantastic for team spirit as well as to be able to test her side against different styles and quality from what they face in the Women's Super League. There has also been some important off-field commitments too.
'It's very important for Chelsea to share our club with the local people and be a part of the community,' she said. 'I know the children have been very happy to meet Bridget the Lioness who has become a big fan of Japanese football too. I just hope she turns up at the airport to fly home because I am worries she is going to stay behind.
'On Friday we visited a nursery and welfare centre and had the opportunity to take the team to put on a session for some small children in Tokyo. This is very important for Chelsea Football Club, to meet the local people, share our players and give them a good experience.'
Progress has been made, and smiles have been spread. The perfect way to end this trip would be by lifting the trophy tomorrow afternoon.