With the Women’s World Cup taking place in June, Japanese women’s soccer is entering a key year and hopes are high.
The domestic Nadeshiko League gets under way this weekend across the nation, with the captains and managers of the 10 first-division clubs speaking on Monday about their expectations for the coming season.
Michi Goto, captain of reigning champion Urawa Reds Ladies, insisted that her team would have to leave last season’s glory behind and work hard to earn another crown.
“We have accumulated a lot of experience as a team and won the championship last year,” Goto said. “And we have another opportunity to try to earn a championship. We definitely want to win it again this year, but nobody knows what kind of situation we’ll be in. So we will just work hard on a daily basis and focus on every moment.”
Reds Ladies halted INAC Kobe’s league championship streak at three years with their first league title since 2009.
INAC, who finished sixth in 2014, should again be a championship contender with a few returning national team players, such as defenders Yukari Kinga and Asuna Tanaka, and forward Shinobu Ono, all of whom played overseas last year. Kobe also acquired midfielder Aya Sameshima from Vegalta Sendai Ladies.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we want to win all the titles we can possibly earn,” said Ono, who played for Arsenal Ladies in 2014. “Not just because players like me and Kinga have returned, this is a team that has to win titles.”
Reds and INAC will square off against each other this Saturday in Saitama.
Nippon TV Beleza, one of the traditional powerhouse teams, will be vying for its first league title in five years. In fact, the Tokyo club has finished as runnerup for the last four years.
Beleza won the annual Empress’ Cup All-Japan Championship last year.
“This is the fifth year for me to be the captain,” Beleza defender Azusa Iwashimizu said. “And we haven’t won the league championship during that span. So we would definitely like to aim for the championship.”
Players like Ono and Iwashimizu, and others who hope to make the Nadeshiko Japan squad for the World Cup in Canada are expected to take the pitch with greater hustle in the league.
“We have the national team based on the Nadeshiko League, that’s how I see it,” said Okayama Yunogo Belle and Japan goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto, who was a member of the World Cup-winning Nadeshiko Japan squad four years ago in Germany. “And all of women’s soccer will get excited by us doing better in the league.”
Iwashimizu, a Japan center back, put it a little differently.
“To have the World Cup, it gives us an extra motivation to win the championship,” she said. “Because if you win a championship in the same year as the World Cup, you get even more of the spotlight. This is a big year for women’s soccer.”
The Nadeshiko League has this year been divided into three divisions, from last year’s two, with a total of 32 teams.
The top six clubs in the top division will advance to the round-robin Exciting Series, which will be held in October and November, to determine the league champions.
The first division will stop play during the World Cup.
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