Having won the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™ in stunning fashion, Japan are among the undisputed favourites going into Canada 2015. While Norio Sasaki's Nadeshiko have fixed sights on retaining their crown, captain Aya Miyama believes that the correct mental attitude is key if her side are to live up to growing expectations.
"Our goal is to win this World Cup," the cool-headed 29-year-old midfielder told FIFA.com. "We will play (hard) to achieve it. But we should shrug off the state of mind as defending champions and start as underdogs. We should challenge (the rivals) to become champions."
Whatever Japan's mental approach, Miyama's cautious tone reflects the challenging task of a group also featuring Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador, all of which represent uncharted water for the Nadeshiko.
"We have never played against any of these three countries in the same group," she said. "So my impression is that we have a very difficult group. Despite the unfamiliar opponents facing us, we will definitely qualify to the knockout stage as we aim to win the tournament."
Polite, calm Miyama may be. Nevertheless, Miyama speaks with the confidence in which she plays on the field. Such self-belief is, of course, fitting given her status as two-time AFC Women Player of the Year (2011, 2012). She again was a nomine for the 2014 title and although Australia's Katrina Gorry clinched the crown ahead of Miyama and Japan forward Nahomi Kawasumi, the near-miss only served to sharpen her appetite for more successes.
We should shrug off the state of mind as defending champions and start as underdogs.
"If you want to compete against the world's best, it is essential for you reach the top of Asia," said the former Los Angeles Sol and Atlanta Beat player. "I always think that and I am hoping to win a third Asian Player of the Year title in the future."
Heir to Sawa
Since inheriting the captain's armband from Homare Sawa three years ago, Miyama has provided thrust and leadership as Japan have achieved fresh and constant success. She skippered the Nadeshiko to Olympic silver medal at London 2012, before helping her side to their maiden AFC Women's Asian Cup title last year. In the eyes of the Japanese faithful Miyama has proved to be the true heir to the iconic Sawa.
Miyama was quick to point out the unrivaled niche Sawa enjoys in the women's game in Japan saying: "I think we've established the team by learning a lot from Homare. We've been building the team together with her (down the years)."
At just 157 cm, Miyama is a classic example of the smaller Japanese player who have proved more than capable of coping with the physically stronger Europeans. "Japanese players have good speed and they are also quick in predicting and judging so they move and respond fast," said the set-piece specialist, likening the Nadeshiko to Japan's men's team, Samurai Blue. "The two sides have similarities as they are both taking advantage of agility and quickness."
With the 36-year-old Sawa’s appearance at Canada 2015 yet to be determined, Miyama appears set to shoulder the task of captaining the team in their title-defence. With 34 goals from 144 international appearances to her name, she is expected to provide much-needed experience to a team partly in transition. While Japan are hopeful of becoming the second team to defend the global title after Germany, Miyama has aims beyond just lifting the trophy.
"Japanese women's football has a history of over 30 years," she summed up. "We owe our development and successes to the efforts by the former national team players who are seniors to me. They did their job well even before I started my career. We should continue what they have started and the most important work is developing the women's game."