New Nadeshiko Japan manager Asako Takakura picked a youthful side on Friday as the 48-year-old prepares for her first matches in charge.
The Japan women’s national team’s first games since it failed to qualify for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics will be a pair of June friendlies against the world champion United States. None of the players on Takakura’s first squad are in their 30s, with an average age of 24 — three years younger than the team that missed out on Rio.
Mana Iwabuchi of Bayern Munich, 23, and Kumi Yokoyama of Nagano Parceiro Ladies, 22, will be among those looking to put behind the disappointment of March’s failed Olympic bid. Three-time women’s Asian player of the year Aya Miyama, who has been captaining the national side, ruled herself out of contention being not fully fit, while mainstays Nahomi Kawasumi and Shinobu Ono have been left out.
“It’s pleasing to be able to face the world No. 1 United States in games that mark a new departure,” Takakura said. “We’ll take the plunge and try to run into them without worrying about the result.”
Takakura’s charges will face the United States in Commerce City, Colorado, on June 2 before playing in Cleveland three days later.
“They’ll press us using their power in the first 15 minutes so I would definitely like to see us weather that. We have to persevere until the tide turns our way and then find a way to score,” Takakura said. “Please tell me if there’s a magical system to beat the United States. We’ll stick to what we are used to.”
There were five new names to the side, including 21-year-old midfielder Yu Nakasato of NTV Beleza, while Takakura, who took over the coaching role from Norio Sasaki, handed the No. 9 shirt to striker Yuki Ogimi (1.FFC Frankfurt) and No. 10 to midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi (NTV Beleza).
“Sakaguchi might not be most eye-catching lying deep in midfield, but in Japan she’s at the highest level. I’d like her to lead the national team with more awareness of that. Giving the No. 9 shirt to Ogimi means she was handed a goal-scoring job,” Takakura said.
“The collective, organizational strength and the never-say-die spirit that runs through Nadeshiko can be expressed by the new players too. I’ll try to let them express themselves without holding them back.”
GK: Erina Yamane (JEF United Chiba), Sakiko Ikeda (Urawa Reds), Ayaka Yamashita (NTV Beleza)
DF: Saori Ariyoshi, Tomoko Muramatsu (both NTV Beleza), Rumi Utsugi (Montpellier HSC), Yuri Kawamura, Mayu Sasaki (both Vegalta Sendai), Saki Kumagai (Olympique Lyonnais)
MF: Mizuho Sakaguchi, Yu Nakasato (both NTV Beleza), Emi Nakajima, Rika Masuya (both INAC Kobe Leonessa), Ami Sugita (Iga FC Kunoichi), Hikari Takagi (Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara), Sonoko Chiba (AS Harima Albion)
FW: Yuki Ogimi (1.FFC Frankfurt), Yuika Sugasawa (JEF United Chiba), Mana Iwabuchi (Bayern Munich), Kumi Yokoyama (Nagano Parceiro Ladies)