Since the inception of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2002, Japan have established themselves as a competitive side, with two quarter-finalist performances underlining their place in the scheme of things. They stormed into the last eight in the inaugural tournament in Canada eight years ago, only to be edged out by Germany. After failing to make it to the next two editions, the Youth Nadeshiko made their return to the event at Chile 2008, where they again reached the knockout stages.
Norio Sasaki was responsible for guiding Japan to this their third FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, but he is surely indebted to Mana Iwabuchi, who almost single-handedly steered her side to the continental championship. The scoring prodigy twice found the back of the net to help Japan draw against Australia and China, results that helped seal their place in the semi-finals. After scoring the only goal against Korea DPR to fire Japan into the final, the 17-year-old was again on target, netting the winner three minutes from time to undo Korea Republic for their second Asian title.
With Japan’s effort marked by seamless organisation and teamwork, the sensational Mana was not the only one that was lauded by Sasaki. "Mana played a key role throughout the campaign, but the whole team played well behind her," he said. Mana’s tournament MVP performance not only sealed Japan’s title; it also yielded her second AFC Women’s Youth Player of the Year award. With the teenager in prolific form, Japan are capable of challenging the world’s best.
Facts and figures
Shinobu Ohno (2002), Yukari Kinga (2002), Asano Nagasato (2008)
Sawako Yasumoto (forward), Mana Iwabuchi (forward), Erina Yamane (goalkeeper), Michi Goto (midfielder), Saki Kumagai (midfielder)
Of the ten goals that Japan scored in qualifying, five came from their defeat of Chinese Taipei. The rest were scored in four games.
The numbers game
2 - the number of times Japan has won the Asian qualifying competition to progress to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.