2020 SheBelieves Cup: Japan team guide
Japan are former World Cup champions, having lifted the trophy in 2011. They know their football and play tactically, clinically, even.
Yet the descent from a World Cup-winning side to a team struggling to make it out of the group stages is concerning. However, the SheBelieves Cup is a tournament that could reignite Japan’s international form.
So, with that in mind, we’ve created a Japan team guide for you to peruse to your heart’s content…
What you need to know
Coach: Asako Takakura
Captain: Saki Kumagai
Previous SheBelieves Cup finish: Third place, drew against USA
Japan players’ recent form
Takakura’s team would do well to remember their 3-0 hammering at the hands of England in last year’s SheBelieves Cup ahead of this tournament’s match-up.
Yet, the former world champions and No. 10 ranked team have stars littered across their starting XI that could ask questions of an out-of-form US side and a somewhat suspect England defence.
Evident across their recent qualifiers, these attacking outlets are more than capable of testing the best defences in the business and are a testament to Japan’s recent form.
Whether it’s Hikaru Naomato – a midfielder with a goalscoring vendetta – and her set-piece skills or forward Kumi Yokoyama and her slippery dribbling movements, it’s clear that Takakura’s team is one worthy of competing with the elite.
Players to watch
The mighty Japanese have a fair few players that warrant a mention in our listings – the kind that will be able to wreak defensive havoc across the tournament. Spearheading the list is:
Despite being slight of frame, Naomato does her best work bumbling through defenses and threading passes right into the path of Yokoyama.
Indeed, this makes her a crucial aspect of Japan’s counterattacking moves, especially considering how fruitful this passage from midfield to attack has been for Takakura’s team.
The 25-year-old, who plays for AC Nagano Parceiro, is a real threat to defences and has regularly made the most of Naomato’s assists for many a season. Aside from this, Yokoyama’s silky dribbling skills and clinical shooting makes her a danger to the likes of Lucy Bronze and Crystal Dunn.
Another forward added to the ranks alongside Yokoyama, Momiki is the next best striker option for Takakura. At the tender age of 23, the Nippon TV Beleza forward has already proved her worth in this competition, given that she racked up two goals and two assists in last year’s SheBelieves tournament, despite Japan finishing third.
A proven midfielder, Hasegawa has already cemented her reputation as a prolific goalscorer and provider across various leagues.
This includes goals at the World Cup, another in last year’s SheBelieves, a brace bagged in the Women’s Asian Cup, and another in the Algarve Cup. If she and her fellow strike partners are anywhere close to this form, then expect goals galore.
Where will Japan finish at the SheBelieves Cup?
It’s clear that the US and England will be running the SheBelieves show this March. But whether Spain or Japan can take third place in the round-robin format is still up for debate.
Both teams possess good attacking options up front – though Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso showed against South Africa that she edges it ahead of Yokoyama in terms of ability. And what aids Spain’s chances further is the inclusion of captain Irene Paredes, who acts as a defensive rock among the back four.
So, it looks as though Japan will be slipping down one place from last year’s SheBelieves standings.