Olympics: Preview Notes – Japan (Group F)

THE LATEST POP CULTURE EXPORT FROM COOL JAPAN, Nadeshiko Japan wants to go from one hit wonders who still fly economy to global superstars who get the first class red carpet treatment.

  • How They Qualified: Top 2 finish in the AFC’s 2011 qualifying tournament (1st)
  • FIFA Rank: #3
  • Previous Olympics: 2008 (4th place), 2004 (quarterfinals), 1996 (Group stage)
  • 2011 WWC Performance: Champions
  • Key Players: Homare Sawa (midfielder), Aya Miyama (midfielder), Yuki Ogimi (forward, née Nagasato)
  • Head Coach: Norio Sasaki (Japan)
  • Team Captain: Aya Miyama
  • Recent Form: L, W, W, L
  • Group Finish Probabilities: 1st, 55%; 2nd, 30%; 3rd, 13%; 4th, 2%
  • Medal Chances: Strong

BUT, HISTORY IS NOT IN THEIR FAVOR — No team, after winning the Women’s World Cup, has won an Olympic Gold Medal the following year. The USA came closest in 2000, but a controversial goal in extra time gave Norway the Gold (SI.com article on the match). In the other three cases — Norway in 1996 plus Germany in 2004 and 2008 — the reigning World Champions have all returned home with a Bronze Medal.

RECENT MATCHES — Since May, Japan has played four tune-up matches. The first was a 4:1 loss to the United States in Sweden on June 18th. Japan traveled to Sweden just two days before this match, so the “tired” excuse does have a ring of truth to it. Also, this was Sawa’s first international match since recovering from benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Two days later, Japan defeated host Sweden 1:0. In both matches, Yuki Ogimi (née Nagasato) had Japan’s lone goals. Then, on July 11th, the World Champions defeated Australia 3:0 in a send-off match via goals from Miyama (26′ PK), Ogimi (45+1′), and Sawa (58′). Japan’s final tune-up was an 0:2 loss versus France in Paris on the 19th.

GROUP CHANCES — Absent a crash-and-burn scenario, Japan will get out of this group as one of the top two teams. They should be able to handle Canada and especially South Africa without too much trouble. The final group match versus Sweden is more of a toss-up, but Japan will probably get out of that match with at least a draw.

ANOTHER GOALKEEPER CONTROVERSY BREWING? It’s a running joke: Norio Sasaki cannot decide on a starting goalkeeper. Both Ayumi Kaihori, Japan’s clutch starting ‘keeper at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and veteran Miho Fukumoto have been sharing time between the sticks in recent matches. Which is all fine and good until the team loses a match that actually matters. Just ask Greg Ryan.

INJURIES — Centerback Azusa Iwashimizu (who earned a red card for her foul on Alex Morgan in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final) suffered a minor ankle injury in June and missed Japan’s two tune-up matches in Sweden. Iwashimizu did start in both of Japan’s last two friendlies (Australia, July 8th; France, July 19th).

PROBABLE STARTERS –Based on the starting line-ups used in the tune-up matches, the only unsettled positions are goalkeeper and right midfield. Both are essentially toss-ups. As noted earlier, goalkeepers Kaihori and Fukumoto have been sharing time (each played 45 minutes in the last two friendlies and played a full match in Sweden). For right midfield, Sasaki alternated between Kozue Ando and Shinobu Ohno during the four tune-up matches.

The probable line-up (4-4-2):

Fukumoto/Kaihori (GK)
Kinga (RB) — Iwashimizu (CB) — Kumagai (CB) — Sameshima (LB)
Ando/Ohno (RM) — Sakaguchi (HM) — Sawa (AM) — Miyama (LM)
Ogimi (FW) — Kawasumi (FW)

Edit: Based on the first two matches, looks like Kawasumi (#9)  has moved back to a wide midfield role, on the left, while Ohno is playing up top with Ogimi. Miyama is playing on the right.

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