Focus on Japan
Kuala Lumpur: Seeded in Pot 1 as the reigning Asian champions, Japan are among the favourites to lift the AFC Women’s Asian Cup next April despite a 2017 of mixed results.
Head coach: Asako Takakura (JPN)
Current FIFA ranking: 8
AFC Women’s Asian Cup appearances: 1986, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014
Best finish: Champions (2014)
After breaking through to win the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany, and reaching the final in Canada four years later, the Nadeshiko have undergone a re-building process which has introduced a number of new faces to Asako Takakura’s national team line-up.
Their development has not been without its teething problems, with heavy losses suffered against Australia and the United States at the Tournament of Nations, but the 2-0 win over Switzerland on home soil in October showed signs of improvement, and ended a four-match winless runs.
The emergence of NTV Beleza forwards Mina Tanaka and Yuka Momiki, aged 23 and 21 respectively, is a cause for optimism, while Kumi Yokoyama remains the team’s chief goal threat, having found the net six times in international play in 2017.
In defence, Japan are blessed with the world class quality and experience of World Cup-winning trio Saki Kumagai, Rumi Utsugi and Aya Sameshima, while Mizuho Sakaguchi – now in the 12th year of her international career – continues to patrol the midfield with distinction.
While Japan, already champions of the world, finally broke through for their maiden Asian title in Vietnam four years ago, the 2014 tournament was the 13th successive AFC Women’s Asian Cup where they finished In the top four, marking them as opponents teams will be wary of being drawn against in Jordan 2018.
Key player: Saki Kumagai
The Nadeshiko’s captain and defensive lynchpin, and a 2017 AFC Women’s Player of the Year nominee, Saki Kumagai’s has scaled heights that most can barely imagine.
Winners medals at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and Asian Games, a silver medal at the London Olympics and 10 major trophies for French club Olympique Lyonnais, including consecutive UEFA Women’s Champions League titles in 2016 and 2017, Kumagai has done, and won it all – except for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
The 27-year-old missed out as her teammates claimed a drought-breaking title in Vietnam four years ago, giving her an extra layer of motivation as she looks to keep Japan at the top of the Asian mountain.
Japan qualified automatically as AFC Women’s Asian Cup Vietnam 2014 winners.
Japan - ‘A’ internationals in 2017
|Spain||1-2||Algarve Cup||Parchal, Portugal||02/03/2017|
|Iceland||2-0||Algarve Cup||Parchal, Portugal||04/03/2017|
|Norway||2-0||Algarve Cup||Sao Joao da Venda, Por.||07/03/2017|
|Netherlands||2-3||Algarve Cup||Sao Joao da Venda, Por.||09/03/2017|
|Costa Rica||3-0||Friendly||Kumamoto, Japan||09/04/2017|
|Brazil||1-1||Tournament of Nations||Seattle, USA||28/07/2017|
|Australia||2-4||Tournament of Nations||San Diego, USA||31/07/2017|
|United States||0-3||Tournament of Nations||Carson, USA||04/08/2017|
Photos: FIFA.com, AFP