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All You Need To Know: Japan 


Kuala Lumpur: After becoming world champions in 2011, and reaching the final in 2015, Japan has handed the responsibility to a talented new generation of players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019.

With three days until in the tournament kicks off, the-AFC.com tells you all need to know about the Asian champions.

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The facts
World ranking: 7
FIFA Women’s World appearances: 8 (1991-2019)
Best result: Champions (2011)
Canada 2015: Final (lost 5-2 to United States)
Group stage opponents: Argentina, Scotland, England (Group D)

 

All You Need To Know - Japan

Road to France

Japan conducted a major rebuild after failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, with Asako Takakura replacing long-time head coach Norio Sasaki before leading the Nadeshiko to the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018 title.

After a tight group stage at Jordan 2018, where they narrowly advanced following a win against Vietnam (4-0), and draws against Korea Republic (0-0) and Australia (1-1), Japan raised their game to beat China PR 3-1 in the semi-final, before a late Kumi Yokoyama strike gave them a 1-0 win over Australia in the decider.

Head coach: Asako Takakura

After an illustrious playing career, Takakura (pictured above) enjoyed great success coaching Japan’s junior national teams, leading the U-17 side to both Asian and world titles, before guiding the U-20s to third place at 2016 global finals.

She became the Nadeshiko’s first female coach when appointed in April 2016 and has since led the senior side to AFC Women’s Asian Cup and Asian Games titles.

Takakura is the current AFC Female Coach of the Year; a title she has essentially owned since 2012 with six wins in seven years.

Pre-tournament form

Japan have won only once in six attempts in 2019, but they have played all of those matches far from home, and almost exclusively against teams considered World Cup contenders.

Holding the United States and Germany – the top two sides in the world rankings – to 2-2 draws underline Japan’s ability to compete with any opponent, while an experimental line-up’s 3-0 defeat to Group B opponents England in March represented the low point of their pre-World Cup results.

Key player: Emi Nakajima

Captain and four-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner Saki Kumagai is arguably the Nadeshiko’s biggest star, particularly in France where she is a star for Olympique Lyonnais, but Nakajima (pictured above) is one of the players who holds the creative key.

Nakajima, 28, is an inventive wide midfielder at the peak of her powers, and one who regularly fulfils the vital function of unlocking opposition defences, a job she did with great effect at March’s SheBelieves Cup in the United States.

Having made her international debut back in 2011, Nakajima has never appeared at a senior World Cup, and her performances will be an important ingredient in Japan’s campaign.

Young gun: Yui Hasegawa

This is a very young squad, with a stunning 14 out of 23 players aged 23 or younger, and four selected having won the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup less than a year ago.

Yui Hasegawa’s (pictured above) 36 caps make her the ninth most experienced player in Japan's travelling party, but she is still only 22, having gathered a wealth of international know-how in just two years since making her debut.

Hasegawa can play as a left winger or a central forward, and – like Nakajima – is expected to be a key contributor towards Japan’s incisive attacking play in her first senior World Cup, having previously shone in three trips to global youth Finals.

Still going strong: Aya Sameshima

11 years after making her international debut, and eight years on from Japan’s breakthrough FIFA Women’s World Cup win in 2011, Sameshima (pictured above), 31, remains an important player in either a left-back or central defensive role and brings rich experience to Takakura’s young side.

Key match: v England

Widely expected to account for Argentina in their opening match, Japan will then face World Cup debutants Scotland, with positive results in those two fixtures potentially setting up a blockbuster Matchday Three clash against World number three England.

The result of that match, in Nice on June 19, could be the difference between winning the group and playing against a third-placed team in the Round of 16, or having to immediately face a global heavyweight in the knockout stage.

The final word

There is no doubt that this Japanese squad is packed with talent with no shortage of options, but it remains to be seen whether Takakura’s youngsters will be ready to put together the string of results required to repeat the heroics of 2011 and 2015.

What is known is that Japan are capable of competing with any team in world football on any given day, making them a team that even the tournament favourites would prefer to avoid in the knockout stage.

Photos: AFC, AFP, Japan Football Association

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