An opening day of celebration and diversity
© AFC

The first of 21 days of football at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012 promises to have a party atmosphere, plenty of diversity and no little emotion. The host nation will be among the eight teams in action at two arenas, one of which, Miyagi, will also take centre stage when it hosts the Opening Ceremony. Sunday’s fixtures will also showcase some notable clashes of style as teams from all six confederations begin their quests for glory.  

Match of the day
Japan-Mexico, Miyagi, 19 August, 2012, 19:20 (local time)
With their senior team the reigning world champions and runners-up at the recent Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, Japan’s U-20s will be keen to build on that success and consolidate the country’s place among the leading lights of the women’s game. To do that, however, they will need to improve on past showings in this competition, where they have managed just two quarter-final appearances in three editions. Nor do Mexico have the proudest record at U-20 level, although they did reach their first knockout phase last time out in Germany, a feat they are determined to emulate this year.

In addition, the game will have special significance for the hosts and not least the population of Miyagi, one of the worst affected areas in last year’s devastating tsunami and earthquake. Moreover, it will be a perfect opportunity for Japan to again demonstrate their wonderful ability to come together and overcome adversity, with robust support from the home fans sure to motivate the team on their debut.

Other highlights
Elsewhere on the opening day, representatives from South America, North/Central America and the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa will also be getting their first taste of action in Japan. Still in Group A, New Zealand and Switzerland face off in a game that could pave the way to the knockout phase for the winner. Meanwhile, in a very competitive Group B, Brazil and Italy, two powers of world football yet to dazzle in this category, go head to head. In the same section, Nigeria, runners-up last time out, take on the team that finished just beneath them on the podium, Korea Republic, in what promises to be a fascinating clash of styles. The Africans will not be short on confidence having enjoyed a very impressive qualification campaign, in contrast to their east Asian opponents, who only secured their place when Japan were designated as hosts.

Players to watch
From Sunday’s fixtures two players stand out as strong contenders to shine in this competition. One is Brazil’s Thais Guedes, a starter with the senior team at the recent Olympic Football Tournament in London and the natural leader of the U-20s. The second is Korea Republic’s Yeo Minji. As winner of the adidas Golden Ball at the last FIFA U-17’s Women’s World Cup, the striker will be keen to pick up where she left off after finding the net no fewer than eight times at Trinidad and Tobago 2010.

The stat
2
– Of the eight sides who get their campaigns underway this Sunday, two will be looking for their first ever wins at a FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. One will be Italy, who registered a draw and two defeats in their previous appearance in 2004, and the other Switzerland, who are desperate to end a sequence of six straight defeats from the 2006 and 2010 editions.

The words
"Our opening game against South Korea will give us an indication of how far we can go, and it could also give us a real confidence boost. Make no mistake, I haven’t come to Japan to admire the skyscrapers; I’m here to win the World Cup," Francisca Ordega, Nigeria striker.

The schedule
Japan-Mexico (Miyagi, 19:20)
New Zealand-Switzerland (Miyagi, 16:20)
Brazil-Italy (Saitama, 15:00)
Nigeria-Korea Republic (Saitama, 18:00)
(All times are local)