Japan has already forged a proud record in the short history of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. At the maiden tournament four years ago in New Zealand, Japan were eliminated by England on penalties at the quarter-final stage, with midfielder schemer Mana Iwabuchi collecting the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. Two years later in Trinidad & Tobago the Young Nadeshiko reached the final, dominating Korea Republic for large periods only to eventually succumb on penalties. Kumi Yokoyama claimed the adidas Silver Ball and adidas Bronze Boot for her six goals, which included a stunning solo effort that will surely remain Trinidad & Tobago 2010’s most abiding image.
The pressure was on the country’s youngest national team to maintain the momentum of a miraculous year for Japanese football. FIFA Women’s World Cup™ glory was followed by top spot achieved in qualifying for both the 2012 London Olympics and the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Despite the weight of expectation, the Young Nadeshiko delivered in style by winning all five qualifying games in the notoriously competitive environment that is Asian women’s football.
Demands are now high for all Japanese women’s teams, but so too it seems is the belief. "We will go to the World Cup with confidence,” said coach Hiroshi Yoshida. "But for sure I think we have a chance of winning." Japan began preparations for Azerbaijan 2012 in February and given their track-record at both senior and youth levels in recent years they will certainly be genuine contenders for the crown. In Yui Narumiya they have another potential world star, and the captain, who cites Homare Sawa as her inspiration, claimed the Most Valuable Player award at last year’s AFC U-16 Women's Championship.
Facts and figures
Manu Iwabuchi, Natsuki Kishikawa (2008), Kumi Yokoyama, Yoko Tanaka (2010)
Yui Narumiya (midfielder), Rika Masuya (forward)
2 – The number of times Japan have been eliminated on penalties at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.