Women's World Cup 2015: Japan Team Guide
The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada starts on June 6, and Japan coach Norio Sasaki is putting the finishing touches towards the Nadeshiko’s attempt to defend the trophy they so brilliantly won four years ago.
Their record before the tournament in Germany was modest at best, but they upset the odds by playing an outstanding brand of passing, technical and accurate football. They are no longer an unknown quantity, and the other teams will be gunning for their scalp.
On the face of it, Group C looks fairly comfortable for them—playing three World Cup debutants—but they will know more than anyone not to underestimate their opponents.
The Road to Canada
Japan qualified for the 2015 World Cup by topping their group in the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. The top two from each group would win a place in Canada, but they won two of their three group games, scoring 13 goals and beating Australia on goal difference.
After drawing 2-2 in the group stage, Japan would secure a 1-0 victory over the Matildas in the final to lift their first-ever Asian Cup.
2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup
Azusa Iwashimizu – 2 goals, Nahomi Kawasumi – 2, Chinatsu Kira – 2, Emi Nakajima – 2, Mizuho Sakaguchi – 2, Yuki Ogimi - 2
May 14, 2014: Australia 2-2 Japan
Goals: Foord (21'), De Vanna (64')
Polkinghorne (71' OG), Ogimi (84')
May 16, 2014: Japan 4-0 Vietnam
Goals: Kawasumi (44', 87'), Kiryu (65'), Ogimi (69')
May 18, 2014: Japan 7-0 Jordan
Goals: Kira (25', 93'), Nakajima (45+1', 75'), Sakaguchi (49', 81'), Alhyasat (69' OG)
May 22, 2014: Japan 2-1 China (AET)
Goals: Sawa (51'), Iwashimizu (122')
Li Dongna (80' pen)
May 25, 2014: Japan 1-0 Australia
Goals: Iwashimizu (28')
The roster was announced on May 1:
Coach Profile: Norio Sasaki
By his very own words, as told to FIFA's website, Japan coach Norio Sasaki is an honest and simple man. He says he is not flashy, doesn’t think he’s charismatic and explains he feels like a father to his squad. It’s that humble nature that makes him a very likable character.
Sasaki’s honesty came through during the 2012 London Olympics when he admitted he told his team to draw against South Africa on purpose. Sharing the points meant they finished runners-up in the group and avoided moving from their base in Cardiff.
Some questioned the ethical side of that move, but it was a window into the meticulous preparation that the 57-year-old puts into his job. While he is strict in training, he says he is a relaxed figure on game day, saying that the players will decide 70 per cent of the outcome.
As the reigning holders, Sasaki’s job is to try and combine young prospects with the established players and deal with the pressure of winning in 2011. He has been in charge of the Nadeshiko since 2007, and although they exceeded expectations to win in Germany, he now believes, four years on, the team have improved. Canada beware!
Star Player: Aya Miyama
Even though she had just helped her country win their first-ever FIFA World Cup, Aya Miyama’s first reaction was not to run off celebrating with her team-mates. In a sincere and humble act, she went over to club team-mate Hope Solo and made sure she was OK.
Despite being crowned world and AFC champions, the two-time AFC Women's Player of the Year remains as humble as ever. She is a shining example for the team and a worthy captain. Going into this summer’s tournament, the 30-year-old has clear targets, but a fresh approach:
"Our goal is to win this World Cup," Miyama told the official FIFA website. "We will play (hard) to achieve it. But we should shrug off the state of mind as defending champions and start as underdogs. We should challenge (the rivals) to become champions."
Once she replaced Sawa as captain of the Nadeshiko, the diminutive midfielder added an attacking thrust to their play, as well as continued leadership both on and off the pitch.
Miyama is an absolute joy to watch. She is technically superb, as you would expect from the Japanese, but it’s her balance, anticipation and awareness of what is around her that makes her a constant threat. She plays with her head up, can pick a pass with either foot and is one of the best from set pieces in the women’s game.
She is a genuine contender to be labelled as the best player in the world.
One to Watch: Mana Iwabuchi
Back in 2011, Mana Iwabuchi was the youngest player in Norio Sasaki’s squad. Four years later, that remains the same, but now she is ready to be a major part of Japan’s success.
Involved in the buildup to the goal that knocked out hosts Germany, the country she now calls home, the move to Europe has helped take her ability to another level.
Iwabuchi told FIFA's website:
"The biggest thing for me is the difference in speed. Not just in terms of running and passing, but also in switching from defence to attack once you've won the ball back and start going for the opponent's goal. It's faster than in Japan. I think the game in Japan is more focused on the team as a whole. However, in Germany the personal strengths of individual players have more influence on the game."
Although Iwabuchi is small, she is also very powerful. Her excellent first touch and ability to turn quickly helps her beat players from close range.
Four years ago she was a young hopeful, now she has the chance to become one of Japan’s leading stars.
World Cup Record
1991 China: Group Stage (4th, Group B)
Japan failed to win a single game or score a goal.
1995 Sweden: Quarter-finalists
They advanced through the group after beating Brazil 2-1 but would lose 4-0 to the U.S. women's national team in the quarter-finals
1999 USA: Group Stage (4th, Group C)
Japan only scored once in three games. That gave them a point but left them bottom of the group.
2003 USA: Group Stage (3rd, Group C)
Despite beating Argentina 6-0, Japan lost against Canada and Germany and finished third in the group.
2007 China: Group Stage (3rd, Group C)
A last-minute equaliser against England in the opening game ultimately wasn't enough to secure second place after they lost to Germany.
2011 Germany: Winners
Japan recovered from losing to England in the group stage by beating Germany and Sweden before that nail-biting penalty shootout win over the USWNT in Frankfurt.
Japan are heavy favourites to finish top of Group C. All three opponents are playing in the tournament for the first time, and although it won’t be easy, the Nadeshiko should have more than enough to advance.
Japan vs. Switzerland
June 8, 2015, 19:00 local time
B.C. Place Stadium, Vancouver, British Colombia
Japan vs. Cameroon
June 12, 2015, 19:00 local time
B.C. Place Stadium, Vancouver, British Colombia
Ecuador vs. Japan
June 16, 2015, 16:00 local time
Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg, Manitoba