WC Countdown: Group D – Japan

Last – but definitely not least – in group D we have Japan.

This is a team with a long history in the game and they are the most successful women’s national team in the Asian Football Confederation. They’ve been fierce competitors in Asia for quite some time but in 2011 they took the world by storm when they went and won the Women’s World Cup 2011, beating the USA in the final to become only the fourth women’s world champions. Then they went and won silver at the World Cup 2015, this time losing to the Americans. This year they won both the Asian Games and the Asian Women’s Cup, which also served as the qualification route for the World Cup. In the process, they beat Vietnam and China, drew with Korea and Australia, only to end up against the Aussie’s again in the final, beating them 1-0.

Japan has a very young team and many of their World Cup-winning squad has retired in the past few years, leaving coach Asako Takakura-Takemoto to try and find a new team setup. Legends like Homare Sawa – who captained the side to their 2011 WC gold and 2012 Olympics silver -, Aya Miyama, Shinobu Ohno and Yūki Nagasato were all part of those glorious years in which the team erupted on the world stage. But now it is up to this young side to keep up with the legacy that the previous generation set up.

Nadeshiko win World Cup 2011
Nadeshiko celebrating their 2011 World Cup win. Source

A player that is still young but has vast experience of international football due to having played in the national team since she was 17, is Mana Iwabuchi. She bloomed out on the international scene as a 15-year-old, representing her country at the inaugural U-17 World Cup, and this is going to be the forward’s third senior World Cup, having won gold back in 2011 and silver in 2015, and she’s one of the integral cogs in Japan’s machinery, and she scored two of the goals en route to Japan’s WC qualification. Kumo Yokoyama is another important goalscorer and contributed four goals in four games at the Asian Cup. Yuka Momik scored two goals in three games at the SheBelieves cup for Japan, and Yui Hasegawa got on the scoresheet as well.

Another experienced and important player in the pursuit of glory is Rumi Utsugi. The 30 -year-old has already participated in three World Cups with Nadeshiko and she is a strong presence and serves as a reminder to the young players of the previous generation and their feats. In an interview with FIFA she commented on the impact that their 2011 World Cup win has had in Japan:

“Before 2011, we had a much smaller population of women who played football in Japan. But since our victory in 2011, we have more players aspiring to become professional or just to play football for fun. I’m so pleased that the women’s football population has grown so dramatically in Japan since then.”

The Japanese style is typically centred on organisation and intelligent movement, so we’ll try and combine those with creative ideas and fresh thinking, which are especially evident in the younger players in our squad. These should be our strengths and I hope we’ll be able to demonstrate them in our team play,” she continues.

Head coach Takakura-Takemoto took over the Nadeshiko squad back in 2016, succeeding the legendary Norio Sasaki. It’s a difficult stepping into such big shoes, but Takakura-Takemoto has done a very good job so far. She used to represent Japan herself, before becoming a coach for various Japan national youth teams, with her most notable achievement being the gold at the 2014 U-17 World Cup. Since she has embraced her role as coach for the senior team she has led the side to gold at the Asian Cup and at the Asian games. Takakura-Takemoto favours a 4-4-2 formation and rarely switches it up, except for when she employs a 4-4-1-1, letting one of the strikers drop.

Japan took part in the SheBelieves Cup in March, drawing against the hosts the USA (2-2) and beating Brazil 3-1 before losing, in what was considered to be the ‘final’, 0-3 against England who went on and won the tournament. It was a torn performance from the young Japanese side and the overall expectation was that they would do better, looking lost at times. Since then they’ve played France and Germany in two friendlies, losing to the French 3-1 and drawing 2-2 with the Germans.

That’s a wrap on the last team out in group D, the most technically difficult out of the six groups looking at the official FIFA-rankings of the teams (Scotland ranked 20, England ranked 4, Argentina ranked 36 and Japan ranked 8), landing on an average of 17. It remains to be seen how this group plays out. Do you think that Japan makes it out of the group? Let us know in the comments below!

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