Nadeshiko Japan departed Monday from Tokyo’s Haneda airport for the Women’s World Cup in France, on the hunt to capture the winner’s trophy for a second time.
Eight years after Japan won the World Cup in Germany, a new generation of players are aiming to write their names in the history books, according to head coach Asako Takakura.
The 51-year-old manager leads a youthful squad facing the tough task of escaping from a group containing Argentina, England and Scotland at the June 7 to July 7 tournament.
“We’ll take one step at a time toward our goal of winning the championship, but it won’t be easy,” Takakura told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
“I think the team has a strong desire to move out of the shadow of previous generations and create its own history.”
The former international with 79 caps said she had chosen a deep squad capable of adapting playing styles depending on the opponent.
“The strength of the squad is that it is flexible and can adapt with lineup changes,” she said. “The ideal team is one that can’t be easily read by the opponent.”
Forwards Riko Ueki, 19, and Jun Endo, 19, are set to make their first appearances at a major tournament, while World Cup veterans such as Aya Sameshima and Mana Iwabuchi will be expected to provide a steadying influence for world No. 7 Japan.
Key squad members include defender and captain Saki Kumagai, who recently lifted the UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy with French club Lyon, and midfielder Yui Hasegawa, who has been tipped as one of the breakthrough players of the tournament.
Following her international debut in 2017, 22-year-old Hasegawa has grown into one of the most important playmakers in the national side.
Though just 156 cm tall, Hasegawa is an attacking force thanks to her dribbling and creativity with the ball. Her skills were on full display when she helped lead Nadeshiko to a 2-2 draw against the world No. 1 United States on American soil at the SheBelieves Cup in February.
Japan later lost 3-0 to England at the same tournament, and will need a significantly improved performance when they face the world No. 3 side in their final Group D match in Nice on June 19, according to Takakura.
“While we have to work hard, we also need to pay attention to the details and read the play one step ahead,” Takakura said.
Japan will open its campaign against 37th-ranked Argentina in Paris on June 10 and meet No. 20 Scotland in Rennes four days later.