NAGASAKI – Japan completed its preparation for the Women’s Asian Cup in emphatic style Sunday with a 7-1 victory over Ghana in an international friendly.
With an eye on her lineups for the April 6-20 tournament in Jordan, coach Asako Takakura made multiple changes throughout the match, including bringing veteran forward Nahomi Kawasumi off the bench for her first national team appearance since 2016.
Though she didn’t miss a beat after running on in the 59th minute, Kawasumi, a key member of Japan’s 2011 World Cup-winning side, said her return was an emotional moment.
“As a Japanese player, wearing this blue uniform out on the pitch has a special meaning,” she said.
Mina Tanaka put Japan ahead in the 14th minute, calmly beating Ghana goalkeeper Patricia Mantey one-on-one after Rika Masuya had played her into the box with a deft through-ball.
Ghana equalized in the 25th minute on a solo effort by Jane Ayieyam, who pounced on a defensive mistake by Japan, hitting the woodwork with a header before scoring off the rebound.
Japan retook the lead following a corner in the 28th minute after Mantey saved a close-range attempt by Tanaka, only to bat the ball toward Mana Iwabuchi, who scrambled the ball across the line.
Mantey stopped Japan extending the lead in the 42nd minute with a diving save off Iwabuchi, but the Nadeshiko added their third less than a minute later when Emi Nakajima made a break down the right side before laying off a cross for the oncoming Masuya, who blasted home from near the penalty spot.
Japan struck again less than three minutes into the second half, with Rin Sumida assisting on a goal by Nakajima. The Nadeshiko added a pair of goals in a three-minute span midway through the half, with Hikari Takagi and substitute Yuika Sugasawa finding the back of the net.
Kawasumi assisted on Japan’s seventh and final goal when she set up fellow World Cup winner Aya Sameshima with a cross in the 83rd minute.
Takakura expressed satisfaction with the team’s performance as it strives to compete at the 2019 World Cup. Japan was runner-up at the last tournament in 2015.
“There were positives from today’s match. The players did a great job maintaining their concentration,” Takakura said. “But allowing that one goal was probably unnecessary.”
The Women’s Asian Cup serves as the final stage of Asian qualification for the 2019 World Cup in France, with the top five teams qualifying. Japan opens its Asian Cup campaign on April 7 against Vietnam in Amman.