Two years ago, Japan marched to a maiden FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup title in imperious fashion. Viewers of Costa Rica 2014 were treated to a *Little Nadeshiko *side playing with maturity beyond their years. Japan’s players displayed fast feet and equally fast minds, with each and every player confident and adept in possession. They duly won all their matches, conceding just a single goal in the process. Rarely has a team been more deserving of a global crown.
Fast forward to the present day, and there have been changes in Japanese football. Despite reaching last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Final™, Japan failed to qualify for the recent Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio. The upheaval following the *Nadeshiko’s *failure to qualify for Rio 2016 saw highly-popular U-17 Women’s World Cup-winning coach Asako Takakura replace Norio Sasaki at the helm of the senior team.
And while Takakura is not around to defend her crown, the Class of 2016 - under new coach Naoki Kusunose - have lofty ambitions of their own. “To win successive championships is our goal,” Kusunose told FIFA.coma few weeks out from the start of this year’s tournament in Jordan.
Planning for success
Like many success stories, Japan believe it is planning and methodology which ultimately deliver results. The *Nadeshiko Vision *blueprint was introduced in 2007 to this end, with a consistent style across all national teams. In that regard, the current crop are no different to their predecessors.
“I think we have a responsibility to play a good style of game as defending champions,” said Kusunose, providing further evidence of his team’s mindset. "It is difficult to choose specific [star] players, but you should look out for our patient defence and high tactical awareness.
“I hope we can breed a lot of future stars but I know that can be difficult to achieve,” adds Kusunose, when asked about balancing the development of players and attaining immediate success.
Japan have certainly been incredibly successful at youth level. Perhaps their most famous teen prodigy - Mana Iwabuchi - has gone on to bigger and better things after winning the adidas Golden Ball at the maiden edition of the tournament in 2008. While Kumi Yokoyama’s slalom run and goal in 2010 was shortlisted for that year’s Puskas award, and remains an enduring image for the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Overall Japan have featured in two of the four U-17 World Cup finals, and reached the quarter-finals on two other occasions.
This year Japan have been pitted against USA, Paraguay and Ghana in Group D for the three-week tournament, which commences on 30 September. Ominously for Japan’s group rivals, Kusunose believes his charges are well placed heading into the tournament after five training camps this year.
“I found rapid growth among the players at the last selection camp in August,” he said. “They are full of motivation and are improving their skills. We are ready to play in Jordan. We have been training on ball control and passing with a view to creating a lot of chances during games. Now we must concentrate on the first game in the tournament.”