RHONE, FRANCE - Japan midfielder Saki Kumagai has a special reason to look forward to her country’s opening match in the Women’s World Cup — her adopted home is France.
Kumagai has been with Lyon since 2013, and has helped the French side become Europe’s pre-eminent force in the women’s club game.
Lyon won its fourth consecutive Champions League title last month, crushing Barcelona 4-1 in the final.
Now the 28-year-old’s thoughts are turning to the challenge ahead for Nadeshiko Japan, the 2011 world champion that fell to the United States in the 2015 final.
Japan open its campaign against Argentina at the Parc des Princes in Paris on Monday.
“I can’t wait to be there. The World Cup is here in France, my second country,” she said.
The added motivation for Kumagai is that the final will be played in Lyon.
“That’s a home game for me. The Groupama Stadium in Lyon is my stadium. It would be really good,” she said.
“I can already imagine the World Cup atmosphere in that place. So it would be special to play there, for Japan but for me especially.”
Japan’s preparations have been patchy and included a 3-1 defeat to France on French soil in April.
“Of course we want to go for the title and I want to play the semifinal and the final in Lyon, but it won’t be easy to go all the way. We’ll see what happens,” Kumagai said.
“Our preparation has been good even if the results weren’t what we were hoping for. We played three matches in March and two more in April against opponents with a good level.”
Kumagai picked out France, which made a convincing start to the tournament by thumping South Korea 4-0 on Friday, along with the United States, England and Germany as the other favorites.
The team transformed the women’s game in Japan it captured the World Cup, and Kumagai said today’s squad bears a heavy responsibility.
“We set the example for young girls who play football and it’s important to win the World Cup,” she said.