Where EAST meets the Northwest
YOUTHFUL NADESHIKO. Midfielder Rumi Utsugi of Japan dribbles the ball during
the first half of the 2015 Women’s World Cup final match in Vancouver, British
Columbia, Canada. Utsugi will soon play in her fourth World Cup, which begins
June 7 in France. Japan won the World Cup in 2011 and was runner-up in 2015 —
both times against the United States. (Mo Khursheed/TFV Media via AP Images,
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #11 (June 3, 2019), page 8.
No experience needed: Japan opts for Women’s World Cup youth
By Stephen Wade
AP Sports Writer
NARASHINO, Japan — Jun Endo turned 19 last month and is headed to her first
Women’s World Cup.
The Japanese forward has lots of company. Sixteen others on the 23-player
roster are also going for the first time.
"I think age doesn’t matter when it comes to playing football," Endo said,
speaking Japanese at the team’s training camp on the outskirts of Tokyo.
"I know that I don’t have much experience yet, but I think I’m good at
learning quickly. Because I’m younger than other players, I’ll work harder. I
just try to keep running."
Few people believe Japan will win the World Cup, which opens on June 7 in
France. That honor falls to favorites like France, England, Germany, and the
United States, with a few outsiders like Canada, Spain, and Italy starting to be
But beware of Japan, a team known at home as Nadeshiko, the name of a
small flower that is meant to symbolize the ideal Japanese woman.
The country won the World Cup in 2011 and was runner-up in 2015 — both times
against the U.S. The coach this time is Asako Takakura, who has taken over from
the highly successful Norio Sasaki.
Takakura went to the World Cup twice as a player and is the first woman in
charge, a fact she does not seem to dwell on.
But some see it as a breakthrough in a country that has few women in
corporate board rooms or in the top ranks of government. It also comes as
players are pushing the Fédération Internationale de Football Association
(FIFA), the governing body of soccer, to upgrade the profile of the women’s
Norway superstar Ada Hegerberg is skipping the tournament to make the point.
"Many people often ask me about this," Takakura said, speaking through an
interpreter. "I believe that I just need to give my players everything I have in
order to win matches and bring out the potential of my players.
"Of course, I have a large responsibility on my shoulders to get results. But
I’m not alone."
Japan has played many of the contenders in recent months, drawing with
Germany and the Americans, and losing to England and France. It has qualified
for every World Cup and, like the United States, could be the first team to
reach the final three straight times.
The Japanese are difficult to break down and rely on speed and keeping the
ball on the ground.
The squad tied Spain, 1-1, in a friendly match on June 2, and then has group
matches against Argentina, Scotland, and England. Japan and England are the
favorites to advance to the Round of 16 knockout stage.
"We have less physical size than other teams," Takakura said. "But we have
better technique and an ability to make the right decision during games. So I
want to effectively use these strengths. We’ll be happy if we can show a
different style of football to the world. And we’ll be exceedingly happy if we
can get good results."
Despite its dependence on youth, the team is anchored by the vastly
experienced Rumi Utsugi, who plays for the Reign in the National Women’s Soccer
League, and Saki Kumagai of Olympique Lyonnais, the dominant club in women’s
Utsugi will be playing in her fourth World Cup, and Kumagai her third.
Takakura is also building for the 2023 World Cup, a tournament Japan and
Australia are considered contenders to host. A joint bid from North and South
Korea is also possible.
"This is a very young team, so I can’t say we have enough experience,"
"I don’t worry too much about the lack of experience. I want to believe
instead in young players’ fearless youth power. If the players believe in their
techniques and ability to link passes, they may be able to surprise the world."
* * *
Women’s World Cup - France 2019
Countries by Group:
Women’s World Cup dates:
June 7 to 20
Round of 16
June 22 to 25
June 27 to 29
July 2 & 3
* * *
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