New-look Japan seek former glories
Japan were big movers in latest FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking
The Nadeshiko have claimed several major scalps over past year
Coach Asako Takakura has reinvented the squad ahead of France 2019
It is always hard to follow on from breakthrough success, but that is what Japan’s latest crop of players are seeking to do ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. The golden generation which inspired Japan’s storied 2011 Women’s World Cup-winning side, and earned the nation a silver medal at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament a year later, are now largely consigned to history.
In their place, a host of fresh names have come through Japan's impressive production line, with many having progressed via the nation’s highly successful youth teams.
Following a period of rebuilding under coach Asako Takakura, Japan are starting to put together a solid foundation a year out from France 2019. A string of impressive results, highlighted by April’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup win, helped the Nadeshiko jump five places to sixth on the most recent FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. FIFA.com takes a look at the new-look Japan and the reasons for their recent rebound.
Slow build towards for France Japan have experienced some indifferent results since Takakura assumed the reins from the highly successful Norio Sasaki in 2016. But wins in 2017 over Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Korea Republic and China PR were signs a rejuvenated side was starting to build momentum.
It was amid a seven-match unbeaten streak earlier this year that saw Japan retain their continental crown and, at the same time, qualify for France 2019. That run of results helped the Nadeshiko reap more points than any other nation in the latest Ranking.
Japan’s sixth-placed position also ensured they edged Australia as Asia’s top-ranked team. It was a welcome sight for Japan, who spent the previous quarter outside the top-ten for the first time in a decade.
Just three players from that famous Germany 2011 victory, lined up this week for Japan at the USA-based Tournament of Nations – forwards Nahomi Kawasumi and Mana Iwabuchi, and fullback Aya Sameshima.
The likes of regular captain Saki Kumagai and midfield engine Rumi Utsugi remain on the scene, but the turnover of personnel over recent years has been significant.
Notably, several players have made the move from youth international stardom to the senior stage. Iwabuchi and Kumi Yokoyama, who scored the Asian Cup winner in April, have long been senior squad members, albeit often without a regular run of starting appearances.
More recently, Mina Tanaka has stepped into the spotlight, scoring a sparkling maiden international hat-trick against New Zealand last month. The forward was a key figure for Japan at both the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and the U-20 equivalent back in 2010 and 2012 respectively.
Now two years into her tenure, Takakura has made a rare successful transition from youth to senior level. The former Nadeshiko international led the nation to a stylish win at the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, and her side were unlucky not to reprise the feat two years later, only to lose on penalties in the decider.
Takakura’s team also finished third at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, having won Asian titles at both age groups. Takakura has not only helped several players successfully transition into the senior side, but maintained the nation’s trademark fluid passing game across the various national teams.
A five-time AFC Women’s Coach of the Year winner, Takakura was recently rewarded by being named on The Best FIFA Women's Coach shortlist for 2018.