World champions Japan turn to tall 'supergirl'

By Alastair Himmer, Reuters

Posted at May 15 2012 04:49 PM | Updated as of May 16 2012 12:55 AM

TOKYO - World champions Japan have called up a towering goalkeeper to help them in their bid to win the women's soccer title at this year's London Olympics.

Erina Yamane, who at 187 centimeters (6 feet, two inches) looks down on Japan's senior men's goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, has made the cut for London, local media reported on Tuesday.

"I thought it was a joke," Yamane, a product of the Japan Football Association's 'Supergirl Project' designed to unearth a future goalkeeper, told the Nikkan Sports newspaper.

"I didn't think I was ready to play at an Olympics," added the 21-year-old, whose L-League team, Tepco Mareeze, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., was shut down after last year's nuclear crisis, forcing her to move to Chiba Ladies.

"The Olympics wasn't even on my radar to be honest. I'll just do whatever I can for the team."

Named after a frilly pink flower, Japan's 'Nadeshiko' surprised the mighty United States on penalties to win the World Cup in Frankfurt in July.

Their astonishing run to the final gave a traumatized country a psychological lift after last year's deadly tsunami, which triggered a nuclear meltdown at a plant north of Tokyo.

Japan put down a marker for London by winning the three-nation Kirin Cup on home soil last month, which involved the number one ranked Americans and Olympic rivals Brazil.

After undergoing a medical check for the Olympics, Yamane, who has recovered from a hernia injury and three foot fractures, said she was fighting fit to compete.

"I'm managing to trick myself into thinking I'm not injured," said the highly regarded stopper, who could be the tallest women in this year's Olympic tournament.

"It's been a very stressful year but it's made me much stronger as a person."

(Reporting by Alastair Himmer. Editing by Patrick Johnston)