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After nine years away from the Olympic stage, Nadeshiko Japan is back — and hopeful of its chances to seize the gold medal that got away at Wembley Stadium.

Head coach Asako Takakura unveiled her 18-woman squad for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics on Friday, putting her faith in these players to outdo a Nadeshiko side once considered among the best in the world.

“Women’s soccer around the world is leveling up quickly. There are a lot of teams that play a very physical game, but we have to remember to play to our strengths,” Takakura said. “The Nadeshiko Japan that achieved results at the very top of the world in 2011, 2012 and 2015 was a miracle side, and in order to overcome them the players have to fight as one.”

Japan — which followed its 2011 Women’s World Cup title in Germany with runner-up finishes against the United States at the 2012 London Olympics and 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, then shockingly failed to qualify for the Rio Games — will be looking to show off the fruits of its rebuild under Takakura, who succeeded Norio Sasaki in 2016 and admitted that she had taken until Friday morning to finalize her squad.

“I think the gears are turning in terms of the kind of soccer I want us to play … (and) I believe we’ve got a team that can win the gold medal,” the 53-year-old said, adding that she had faith in a core of young players who won the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups in 2014 and 2018, respectively.

“Of course the senior national team is different, and the pressure of a home Olympics may be more than they expect, but they won’t be afraid to face international opposition and I think we’ll compensate for their lack of experience at this level.”

Takakura’s selections include five players from overseas clubs with the remaining 13 hailing from WE League powerhouses Urawa Reds Ladies, Tokyo Verdy Beleza and INAC Kobe Leonessa.

The face most familiar to overseas audiences will likely be striker Mana Iwabuchi, who recently moved to Arsenal after impressing at Aston Villa this winter. The 28-year-old has gone on a rampage for Nadeshiko this spring, scoring five goals and recording four assists in four friendlies played in March and June.

Iwabuchi will wear the No. 10 shirt, last worn at the Olympics by retired Nadeshiko Japan legend Homare Sawa — a responsibility Takakura believes the Tokyo native has earned.

“I think it’s a big thing to inherit that number. Iwabuchi has always been a candidate,” Takakura said. “But it’s not just about the performance, it’s about carrying the team. She’s matured, and looking at her performance and how she’s acted during our training camps, I think she’s responsible enough to wear No. 10 and carry Japan at the Olympics.”

Iwabuchi will be joined by fellow veteran Saki Kumagai, who will again take the captain’s armband. The 30-year-old central defender — who won five straight UEFA Women’s Champions League titles and a mountain of domestic trophies with Olympique Lyonnais — has recently secured a move to Bayern Munich, marking her return to the Frauen-Bundesliga for the first time since 2013.

“(Kumagai) has a strong mentality … I can’t think of anyone else who should be captain,” Takakura said.

Following a July 14 friendly at Kyoto’s Sanga Stadium, Nadeshiko will open its Olympic campaign at Sapporo Dome with games against Canada on July 21 and Great Britain on July 24, concluding the group stage on July 27 against Chile at Miyagi Stadium.

Nadeshiko Japan Olympic Roster

Goalkeepers

  • Sakiko Ikeda
  • Ayaka Yamashita

Defenders

  • Saki Kumagai
  • Risa Shimizu
  • Asato Miyagawa
  • Moeka Minami
  • Nanami Kitamura
  • Saori Takarada

Midfielders

  • Emi Nakajima
  • Yui Hasegawa
  • Hina Sugita
  • Narumi Miura
  • Yuzuho Shiokoshi
  • Jun Endo

Forwards

  • Yuika Sugasawa
  • Mana Iwabuchi
  • Mina Tanaka
  • Yuka Momiki

Backups

  • GK Chika Hirao
  • DF Shiori Miyake
  • MF Honoka Hayashi
  • MF Momoka Kinoshita

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