Japanese trio set for French Cup showdown
FIFA Women's World Cup™ winners Aya Sameshima and Rumi Utsugi helped power Montpellier into the final of the French Women's Cup for the fourth straight year on Tuesday with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Paris Saint Germain.
A 13th-minute goal from Marion Torrent in Saint-Germain-En-Laye outside the capital ensured the southerners, who are also still in the running for the league crown, will meet Lyon whom feature the French league's third Japanese player, Ami Otaki, in the final in Bourges on 13 March.
Striker Otaki, 22, who joined Lyon in January, scored a hat-trick in her side's 8-0 semi-final win over Arras on Saturday, for an impressive debut season which also includes a UEFA Women's Champions League final against FFC Frankfurt on 17 May in Munich, Germany.
But 23-year-old midfielder Utsugi warned that she and fellow FIFA Women's World Cup winner Sameshima were determined to land their first trophies with Montpellier.
"We have to step things up against Lyon," said Utsugi, who joined Montpellier in 2010. "There were many things we still need to work on. As for the (league) title, we're going to keep believing and fight until the very end."
Montpellier are third, five points behind leaders Juvisy and two off second placed Lyon with three games to play.
Utsugi will remain at Montpellier next season but it's uncertain for Sameshima who could return to her former club Tepco Mareeze near Fukushima where she played before the 2011 earthquake-tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster.
"I can't say much about it yet because we're still in talks," explained the 24-year-old defender who had worked in the Fukushima power plant while playing for the Japanese team.
After the disaster and her team's FIFA Women's World Cup success in 2011 Sameshima left to play with the Boston Breakers but says she feels at home in southern France. "I love the environment in Montpellier. The team, the stadium, the fans are all great," she explained.
"The French league is also different compared to the Japanese (league). It's stronger and mentally it's a great challenge. My style isn't very physical, so I'm really learning another style of play here and learning the importance of pressing and passing."
Montpellier coach Sarah M'Barek said she was hopeful of keeping her Japanese stars next season as the three-time Cup winners prepare to claim their first title since 2009.
"They (the Japanese) bring rigour and discipline to the team," explained the former French women's international. "They are high level world champions and lead by example. We don't know yet (if they will stay next season) but we'd would definitely like to keep them."