The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off this weekend with France taking on Korea in the opening encounter at the Parc de Princes stadium in Paris. The French side led by inspirational skipper, Amandine Henry are the second favorites to win the tournament behind defending champions, The United States, who defeated Japan 5-2 in the final of the 2015 competition.
Japan will do well to reach that stage this time around. Nadeshiko, as the team is known, are currently ranked number seven in the FIFA rankings, one place below Australia who they defeated in the final of last year’s Asian Cup in Jordan. Their first game is against Argentina at 1 am (JST) on June 11. They will need to pick up three points in that one with tougher matches against first-time qualifiers, Scotland, and Phil Neville’s, England, currently ranked number three in the world, to follow.
Nadeshiko, who famously won the World Cup in 2011, are managed by Asako Takakura, a former midfielder who won 79 caps for the national side. She has selected an interesting looking squad with a nice balance of youth and experience. Five of those chosen played in the previous two tournaments, including captain, Saki Kumagai, who recently won her fourth Champions League medal with Lyon. She’ll be joined at the back by veteran Rumi Utsugi, who is also playing abroad for American side, Reign FC, and will be appearing in her fourth World Cup.
At the 2018 U20 World Cup, which was also played in France, Young Nadeshiko lifted the trophy for the first time, defeating Spain 3-1 in the final. Four members from that squad have been chosen by Takakura including three from the domestic league’s top side, Nippon TV Beleza. Full-back, Asato Miyagawa, midfielder Jun Endo, and striker, Riko Ueki, are joined by Urawa Reds’ defender, Moeka Minami. Playmaker, Yui Hasegawa, and forward, Rikako Kobayashi are two other youngsters to look out for in the squad.
The top two sides from each of the six groups qualify for the second round, plus the best four third-placed teams. Barring a disaster, Japan should be strong enough to get through the opening stage. Beyond that, who knows? It’s an open tournament with several sides capable of taking home the trophy. Along with America, France and England, countries like Germany, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and European champions Holland will all fancy their chances of winning. Even Norway without the world’s best player, Ada Hegerberg, cannot be ruled out. It should make for an exciting tournament.
Feature image: Leonard Zhukovsky | Shutterstock