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Influx of youth as Takakura finalises Japan squad

Tokyo: Japan head coach Asako Takakura has finalised her FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 squad, with a youthful 23-strong contingent named at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday.

Headlined by France-based captain Saki Kumagai, the squad contains a balance of youth and experience, with a string of new faces called upon in addition to a reliable core of senior players.

The Asian champions can boast four players who have already lifted a world title on French soil, with victorious 2018 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup quartet Moeka Minami, Asato Miyagawa, Riko Ueki and Jun Endo all earning selection.

They are joined by goalkeeper Chika Hirao, midfielder Hina Sugita and NTV Beleza pair Narumi Miura and Rikako Kobayasahi as players aged 22 or under, and with less than 10 international appearances.

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Dynamic midfielder Yui Hasegawa and defender Risa Shimuzu are also 22, albeit with far more experience on the international stage, including playing key roles in the Nadeshiko's 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup triumph.

Despite the influx of young talent, Takakura's selection is also rich with experience, with no less than five players - Kumagai, Mizuho Sakaguchi, Aya Sameshima, Rumi Utsugi, and Mana Iwabuchi (pictured below) - who were part of Japan's squad when they defeated the United States to become Asia's first FIFA World Cup winners in Germany in 2011.

AFC Women's Asian Cup Final heroes Kumi Yokoyama and Ayaka Yamashita will also be on the plane to France, while Mina Tanaka - who scored an international hat-trick against New Zealand less than a year ago - and veteran defender Saori Ariyoshi among the most notable absentees.

Japanese champions NTV Beleza provide 10 of the 23-strong squad, with only Kumagai and US-based Utsugi currently playing their club football outside of the domestic Nadeshiko League.

Japan are the first of Asia's five FIFA Women's World Cup France representatives to name their travelling party, with Australia and Korea Republic to follow suit over the next week.

Takakura's squad will complete their pre-tournament preparations with a friendly against Spain on June 2, before embarking on the France 2019 group stage campaign with matches against Argentina, Scotland and England from June 10.

Japan Squad
Goalkeepers: Sakiko Ikeda, Ayaka Yamashita (pictured above), Chika Hirao
Defenders: Aya Sameshima, Rumi Utsugi, Saki Kumagai, Shiori Miyake, Risa Shimizu, Nana Ichise, Asato Miyagawa, Moeka Minami
Midfielders: Mizuho Sakaguchi, Emi Nakajima, Yuka Momiki, Yui Hasegawa, Hina Sugita, Narumi Miura
Forwards; Yuika Sugasawa, Mana Iwabuchi, Kumi Yokoyama, Rikako Kobayashi, Riko Ueki, Jun Endo

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