2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Preview: Japan
Source: jfa.jp

Since 2011, Japan have established themselves as a team capable of winning major tournaments and despite a shift to a younger team, their style of play shows that they can still compete at the highest level.

At the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, Japan will line up against ArgentinaEngland and Scotland in Group D and look to keep their trend of qualifying for the knock out stages at the World Cup going for a third successive time.

Youthful exuberance has been a benefit and a hindrance for Japan

Japan showed glimpses of brilliance at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup | Source: thestar.com.my
Japan showed glimpses of brilliance at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup | Source: thestar.com.my

After the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup which saw Japan beaten handily by the United States of America, former head coach Norio Sasaki stepped down and it signaled a change in direction for Japan. Asako Takakura came in and decided to revamp the team, letting go of a lot of veterans and bringing in more of the youth level players. The aim is to have the team ready to medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but if the team manages to win other tournaments along the way, Japan will be happy with that.

So far, the plan has worked out well. At the recent 2019 SheBelieves Cup, Japan put in impressive performances against Brazil and the U.S. That youthful exuberance was at its best against those two sides and Japan showed that despite not having many of their more experienced players, they are still one of the more exciting teams to watch. The downside of having so many younger players showed itself at the same tournament against England as Japan were unable to keep up and maintain the same level of pressure that England put on them. In a few weeks, Japan will be able to show if they have learned from that experience or not as they face England again on June 19th.

Japan's midfield could prove to be their biggest asset

Emi Nakajima has been in great form for Japan | Source: Harry How-Getty Images
Emi Nakajima has been in great form for Japan | Source: Harry How-Getty Images

As previously noted, this is a relatively inexperienced Japan side but they do have the talent to case problems for any team. Yui Hasegawa and Emi Nakajima have shown that they are ready to sign at the biggest stage the game has to offer and will look to be the focal point for Japan going forward. These two will probably be supported in midfield by a more experienced head in Reign FC's ​​​​​​​Rumi Utsugi who is one of the best defensive midfielders around today.

At the back, Saki Kumagai is expected to keep her backline organized against some tough attacks in England and Scotland. Kumagai can also play in midfield should she be required, as she does for her club team, Olympique Lyonnais, but she is expected to start in defense at the World Cup. Kumagai has proven herself at the highest level for both club and country so her leadership both on and off the field will be vital for Japan.

Roster

Goalkeepers: ​​​​​​​Chika Hirao, Sakiko Ikeda, Ayaka Yamashita.

Defenders: ​​​​​​​Nana Ichise, Saki Kumagai, Moeka Minami, Asato Miyagawa, Shiori Miyake, Aya Sameshima, Risa Shimizu, Rumi Utsugi.

Midfielders: Yui Hasegawa, Yuka Momiki, Narumi Miura, Emi Nakajima, Mizuho Sakaguchi, Hina Sugita.

Forwards:​​​​​​​ Jun Endo, Mana Iwabuchi, Rikako Kobayashi, Yuika Sugasawa, Saori Takarada, Kumi Yokoyama.

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