June 20, 2011

Group B Preview: Japan

Japan (#4)
Region: AFC
Coach: Norio Sasaki
How They Qualified: Finished in 3rd Place in Asian Cup.
Prior Cups:
2007: Group Stage
2003: Group Stage
1999: Group Stage
1995: Lost in Quarterfinals
1991: Group Stage
Returnees from 2007 WWC: (12) Ando, Fukumoto, Iwashimizu, Kinga, Miyama, Nagasato, Ohno, Sakaguchi, Sawa, Utsugi, Yamago, Yano.

Roster (Average Age: 25.70)
Miho FukumotoGKYunogo Belle2754/0
Ayumi KaihoriGKINAC Leonessa2417/0
Nozomi YamagoGKUrawa Red Ladies3696/0
Azusa IwashimizuDFNTV Beleza2463/8
Yukari KingaDFINAC Leonessa2761/4
Saki KumagaiDFUrawa Red Ladies2022/0
Aya SameshimaDFBoston Breakers2426/2
Kyoko YanoDFUrawa Red Ladies2767/1
Kozue AndoMFFCR Duisburg2885/17
Megumi KamionobeMFAlbirex Niigata Ladies2513/2
Nahomi KawasumiMFINAC Leonessa2514/2
Aya MiyamaMFYunogo Belle2692/23
Mizuho SakaguchiMFAlbirex Niigata Ladies2337/15
Homare SawaMFINAC Leonessa32166/75
Asuna TanakaMFINAC Leonessa232/0
Rumi UtsugiMFMontpellier2243/5
Mana IwabuchiFWNTV Beleza185/2
Karina MaruyamaFWJEF Utd Ichihara Ladies2861/13
Yuki NagasatoFWFFC Turbine Potsdam2363/31
Shinobu OhnoFWINAC Leonessa2786/34
Megumi TakaseFWINAC Leonessa2016/4

Recent Matches:
6/18/11Korea RepublicFriendlyT 1-1
5/18/11USAFriendlyL 0-2
5/14/11USAFriendlyL 0-2
3/9/11SwedenAlgarveW 2-1
3/7/11NorwayAlgarveW 1-0
3/4/11FinlandAlgarveW 5-0
3/2/11USAAlgarveL 1-2
11/22/10Korea DPRAsian GamesW 1-0
11/20/10ChinaAsian GamesW 1-0
11/18/10Korea DPRAsian GamesT 0-0
11/14/10ThailandAsian GamesW 4-0
5/30/10ChinaAsian CupW 2-0
5/27/10AustraliaAsian CupL 0-1
5/24/10Korea DPRAsian CupW 2-1
5/22/10ThailandAsian CupW 4-0
5/20/10MyanmarAsian CupW 8-0
5/11/10MexicoFriendlyW 3-0
5/8/10MexicoFriendlyW 4-0

Homare Sawa played in her first World Cup in 1995 at the age of 16. She is one of the most respected players in the world. Now 16 years later, she will be competing in her fifth World Cup as a member of the highest ranking Japanese team ever.

The Japanese have competed in all five previous Women’s World Cups, but have only made it as far as the quarterfinals once. That was in 1995. This team has the potential to go that far or even further. They return 12 players from their 2007 team, among the most of any team here. And while no group can be considered easy, Group B certainly is one from which they should advance.

But lately, Nadeshiko Japan has not been performing like…well, like Japan normally does. They looked flat in a recent two-game series in the United States losing both by 0-2 margins. Their most recent outing was a 1-1 tie against non-qualifying Korea Republic. Last year, they earned their spot in the World Cup by beating China for the third place match in the Asian Cup, after losing to Australia in the semifinals.

Still, they are the fourth ranked team in the world and they did perform reasonably well at Algarve, defeating Norway and Sweden after losing a close match to the United States.

Their strength is their technical ability. They have a great passing game and don’t give up possession easily. They have a talented and experienced midfield led by Sawa and Aya Miyama. In addition to being a strong technical player, Miyama can place a free kick pretty much anywhere she pleases with deadly accuracy.

On offense, Shinobu Ohno has blazing speed and has been their best scorer lately. Yuki Nagasato is another veteran forward who knows how to score, although she is still only 23 years old. It will be interesting to see if young Mana Iwabuchi makes any impact at this competition. She looks to be a star of the future for the Japanese side.

Perhaps the weakest position for the Japanese is their defense. Not their ability or their experience, but their lack of size. They will be going against several big, strong teams in this tournament if they are to advance very far. Set pieces on the defensive end could be an Achilles heel for Japan, as the recent trip to the United States proved to some extent.

In goal, the Japanese have good depth and experience. Nozomi Yamago has been a national team keeper for a long time. She played in six World Cup games in 1999 and 2003. Ayumi Kaihori has seen her share of starts lately and appears to be the heir apparent.

In light of the recent tragic events in Japan, there will be much on the players’ minds that doesn’t involve soccer, which is quite understandable. But hopefully, this team will be at the top of their game when they open in Germany in less than a week. If they are, they will be a hard team to face and they could well advance far into this competition.

Note: Some information for this article was obtained on www.fifa.com and www.jfa.or.jp.