Soccer

Nadeshiko Japan makes new start under Takakura

Kyodo

All eyes will be on new Nadeshiko Japan manager Asako Takakura and her newly assembled charges when Japan faces world champion United States on Thursday in the first game of a two-match friendly tour.

The 48-year-old Takakura, who led Japan to titles at the 2014 Under-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2015 Asian U-19 Championship, called up five uncapped players in her first selection as the new era awaits the 2011 World Cup winners.

Takakura, the first female coach for the women’s national team, was named Norio Sasaki’s successor in April after the silver-medal winners in the 2012 London Games missed out on this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“One game isn’t going to decide everything. I’ll be trying to do various things over the course of two games,” Takakura said Wednesday.

One of the potential debutants, 22-year-old AS Harima Albion midfielder Sonoko Chiba, said, “There are nerves with every passing day, but we say to each other we’re not going to bow (to the pressure).”

While leaving out the likes of Nahomi Kawasumi and Shinobu Ono and without unfit Aya Miyama, Takakura can still count on some experience from Bayern Munich forward Mana Iwabuchi and center back Saki Kumagai, who clinched a treble for Olympique Lyonnais last week with a penalty in the Champions League final win over Wolfsburg.

“In areas where we’ve considered our effort to be satisfactory until now, we’ve been told to take a step forward,” said Kumagai, who was named the player of the match in the Champions League final.

Iwabuchi, who won this season’s Bundesliga with Bayern, said, “I’ve been asked whether we can close down by 10 centimeters. The attack and defense is the two sides of the coin so I’ll try to focus on my defense too.”

Nadeshiko will move to Cleveland for their second match on Sunday.