Aya Miyama, Japan's tiny gem
© AFP

Three years ago, Japan demonstrated their new found confidence among the world elite with a semi-final finish at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing. Now the Nadeshiko are looking to make an impact on an even greater stage at this year's FIFA Women’s World Cup™. And if Japan succeed at Germany 2011, the likelihood is that influential midfielder Aya Miyama will have been a key contributor.

The diminutive dead-ball specialist knows what it takes to make an impact at this level as she prepares for her third FIFA Women’s World Cup at just 26 years of age. Since impressing a global audience at the 2007 edition of the tournament in China, Miyama has broadened her footballing horizons by competing in the WPS. Along with fellow Nadeshiko icon Homare Sawa, Miyama is the only Japanese player to feature for more than one season in the star-studded USA league.

Ready for next step
Despite quietly moving up to fifth place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking in recent times, Japan have yet to make an impact at the benchmark tournament for women’s football. Although they have featured in all five previous FIFA Women’s World Cups, a lone quarter-final appearance back in 1995 marks the only occasion that the Asian giants have progressed beyond the first round. 

The Japanese find themselves drawn alongside a trio of teams – New Zealand, Mexico and England – that they have previously met with varied success at recent major tournaments, a fact not lost on Miyama. “I think every opponent in our group plays in a western type of style, different from ours, and in that sense I think we have a chance of displaying our quality,” she told FIFA.com.

Japan will commence their campaign against New Zealand, whom they played out a disappointing 2-2 draw against at Beijing 2008. A year earlier, they edged past Mexico in an epic two-legged play-off to qualify for China 2007, at which they drew 2-2 against England in a drama-charged encounter. It was here that Miyama really made a splash in front of the watching world scoring two stunning free-kicks that would not have been out of place on any stage.

Summer dreaming
Japan kick-started their final preparations for Germany 2011 this week by participating in the prestigious Algarve Cup. Although they were defeated 2-1 by USA in their tournament opener, Miyama managed to get one over some of her former WPS counterparts by scoring Japan’s lone goal. The goal had all the characteristics of a quintessential Miyama strike with the ball hitting the crossbar and the post before bouncing over the line.

This year Miyama has returned to Japan and will spend the final months preparing with her club Okayama Yunogo Belle before arriving in Germany. “Yes, we are confident,” says Miyama of her team’s chances of success this coming summer in Germany. “However, I think we need to develop more in the coming months to acquire the ability to win tough games. We’re focused and we know where we are at leading up to the tournament. The team is starting to play better and overcome the difficulties of playing against various styles of football.”

The last 12 months have seen Japan collect an Asian Games gold medal as well as taking home the East Asian title. Surprisingly, the Nadeshiko have never claimed the AFC Asian Women’s Cup but coach Norio Sasaki is doubtless hoping the recent accrual of silverware will instil confidence and belief. Miyama, for her part, believes the against-the-odds victory by the Japanese men’s team at the AFC Asian Cup is another source of inspiration. ”The Japan men’s national team victory at the Asian Cup is another reminder of what can be achieved with an attitude of never giving up.”