Japan SheBelieves Cup preview

Asako Takakura looks onward as Japan play at the 2019 Women's World Cup.
Japan head coach Asako Takakura looks on as Japan faces Argentina at the 2019 Women's World Cup - (c) 2019 Baledent/FootOFeminin

After crashing out in the round of 16 during last year’s World Cup, Japan are ready to look ahead with help from the SheBelieves Cup.

Nadeshiko Japan won the World Cup in 2011 and finished as runners up in 2015. So, when the team exited the 2019 World Cup during the round of 16, many questioned the strength of the squad moving forward.

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It’s typical for a country’s governing body to sack the head coach after such a result. But the Japan Football Association (JFA) had a different idea when it came to Asako Takakura’s fate as the team’s head coach.

LISTEN: HFH Stateside: 2020 SheBelieves Cup Preview

In August 2019, the JFA confirmed that Takakura would remain as the head coach with the primary responsibility of redefining the team.

“It is important to continue the direction of strengthening without being wrong,” said JFA Women’s Committee chairwoman Junko Imai.

Since that statement, Japan have won all five of their fixtures. They scored a total of 15 goals and kept a clean sheet on each occasion. In the process, they won the 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship.

Takakura will now use the SheBelieves Cup to build upon those results.

“This is the last tournament before the Olympics, and it will be a tournament to determine the last 18 players,” said Takakura. “The challenge is how to increase our strength.”

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Takakura’s squad selection is consistent with recent tournaments. While the squad contains mostly younger players, several veterans are still active members. In fact, a veteran player compliments each of the three key positional zones of the outfield.

As a player, this is the time to stand out. A positive performance in the United States will likely warrant a spot in the Olympic squad.

For this reason, the SheBelieves Cup provides an opportunity for Japan to continue in a positive direction. It’s the perfect prelude before they become hosts at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japan’s SheBelieves Cup fixtures:

  • Spain (March 5) in Orlando, FL
  • England (March 8) in Harrison, NJ
  • United States (March 11) in Frisco, TX

Full Japan Squad:

Goalkeepers (3): Sakiko Ikeda (Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies), Ayaka Yamashita (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Chika Hirao (Albirex Niigata Ladies)

Defenders (7): Saki Kumagai (Olympique Lyonnais/France), Arisa Matsubara (Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara), Shiori Miyake (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Mayo Doko (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Risa Shimizu (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Asato Miyagawa (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Moeka Minami (Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies)

Midfielders (7): Emi Nakajima (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Hikaru Naomoto (Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies), Yuka Momiki (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Yui Hasegawa (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Hina Sugita (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Narumi Miura (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza), Jun Endo (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza)

Forwards (6): Yuika Sugasawa (Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies), Mana Iwabuchi (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Mina Tanaka (INAC Kobe Leonessa), Mami Ueno (Ehime FC Ladies), Mayu Ikejiri (Mynavi Vegalta Sendai Ladies), Rikako Kobayashi (Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza)

Squad Notes:

  • The average player age is 24. This is the same as it was at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
  • Saki Kumagai will wear the captain’s armband. Emi Nakajima last wore it at the 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship.
  • This will be Japan’s second SheBelieves Cup. They finished in third place in 2019.
  • Of the three other teams, England was the only team to defeat Japan in 2019. They did so at both the 2019 SheBelieves Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

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