2012 Under-20 Women’s World Cup: Group A – Preview Notes (Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland)

In this year’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup, host Japan lucked out with a relatively easy draw in Group A. Two of their opponents, New Zealand and Switzerland, have yet to advance out of the group stage, while Mexico has only made it to the knock-out stage once: In 2010, partially at the expense of Japan.

As far as which teams should make it out of the group, only host Japan is an automatic pick. The second slot is a toss-up, although Mexico seems the most likely other team to get out of the group. New Zealand also has a chance, while Switzerland appears to be the long-shot.

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JAPAN

WITHOUT ITS TWO BEST FORWARDS — Host Japan finds itself without its top two forwards in this age group, Mana Iwabuchi and Mai Kyokawa. Both have already been capped by Japan’s senior WNT. Iwabuchi was on the Nadeshiko’s Olympic squad, but left off this tournament’s roster for less-than-clear reasons, although her not being 100-percent due to her metatarsal injury in December and the lack of practice time with the U-20s seems to be key factors. On Friday, August 17th, Iwabuchi had surgery on her fifth metatarsal, and will be out of action for three months, according to her club team’s website (in Japanese). Kyokawa, Japan’s leading goal-scorer during qualifying last year, suffered a triple whammy of a knee injury in May: torn ACL, torn MCL, and meniscus damage (mainichi.jp in English).

OTHER OFFENSIVE WEAPONS — Top among them is their always smiling attacking midfielder Yoko Tanaka, who scored the winning goal against the USA in the teams’ first friendly this June. Japan’s primary starting forward will likely be Ayaka Michigami who is a physical goal-scorer, but relatively not that quick or technical, compared to her teammates. Kumi Yokoyama is capable of brilliant dribbling, as evidenced by her semifinal-winning goal in the 2010 U-17 Women’s World Cup (FIFA.com).

LAST-MINUTE ROSTER CHANGE — Centerback Tomoko Muramatsu suffered an injury and has been replaced by midfielder Chika Kato. (JFA, in Japanese)

NOTABLE TUNE-UP FRIENDLIES — In March, Japan split two matches with a France “B” squad, winning the first 3:0, but losing the second 1:2. In June, the Young Nadeshiko also split two matches with the United States, winning the first match 1:0, but losing the second 0:2. Japan’s final tune-up was a 2:2 draw with Canada.

LAST TIME AROUND — In the 2010 U-20 WWC, Japan failed to get out of its group, in part due to a 3:3 draw with Mexico (FIFA.com) who once again is in Japan’s group. At half-time, Mexico was up 3:1, but Japan benefited from a second-half own goal and an 88th minute blast from Mana Iwabuchi to salvage a draw.

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MEXICO

SENIOR INTERNATIONALS — Starting senior goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago and midfielder Nayeli Rangel both played in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. Santiago plus defenders Bianca Sierra, Ariana Romero, and Christina Murillo plus forward Chrystal Martinez participated in the Olympic qualifying tournament last January. Other players with international caps include Ariana Martinez, Olivia Jimenez, Yamile Franco, and Tanya Samarzich.

TOP SCORERS FROM QUALIFYING — Natalia Gomez Junco led Mexico with 6 goals. Tanya Samarzich and Yamile Franco each had 3 goals. (concacaf.com)

LAST TIME AROUND — Mexico got two draws with Japan and Nigeria along with a win against England, for a total of five points, which was good enough to win its group. Mexico then bowed out in the quarterfinals via a 1:3 loss to the Korea Republic, who finished third.

PREVIOUSLY, IN A USA UNIFORM — Two players have attended youth USWNT camps, forwards Ariana Martinez and Sofia Huerta. Martinez was in some U-18 WNT camps in 2009 and 2010, while Huerta was at the January U-20 USWNT camp earlier this year.

NOTABLE TUNE-UP FRIENDLIES –In August, Mexico lost 1:2 to China and drew 2:2 with South Korea. Also, Mexico lost to both the USA and Canada in qualifying.

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NEW ZEALAND

SENIOR INTERNATIONALS — Forwards Rosie White and Hannah Wilkinson plus midfielder Katie Bowen played in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. White and Wilkinson were also part of the Football Ferns’ Olympic squad this year. Other capped players include defender Holly Patterson, who was an Olympic alternate, defender Bridgette Armstrong, and winger Olivia Chance. Goalkeeper Erin Nayler was a member of New Zealand’s 2011 Women’s World Cup squad and was an alternate at the Olympics, but does not appear to have a senior cap. (All links go to nzfootball.co.nz)

NOTABLE TUNE-UP FRIENDLIES — In May, the Junior Football Ferns traveled to the USA where they played a couple W-League squads and the U-20 USWNT. Against the USA, they lost 0:5, although they were without their captain Rosie White due to a minor injury.

YET TO GET OUT OF THE GROUP — New Zealand has appeared in three previous U-20 WWCs, but has yet to advance to the knock-out stage. In 2008, the Junior Ferns had their best showing, with a win and a draw during the group stage, but in 2010, the squad lost all three of its matches.

See Also: Junior Ferns targeting more football history (NZFootball.co.nz)

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SWITZERLAND

SENIOR INTERNATIONALS — Midfielder Lia Wälti already has several caps for Switzerland’s senior squad, plus a goal and an assist (UEFA.com). Goalkeeper Pascale Küffer does not yet appear to have a senior appearance, but she has made the last several Euro qualifying match rosters as a back-up ‘keeper.

NO POINTS IN TWO APPEARANCES — Switzerland qualified for two previous U-20 WWCs, Russia 2006 and Germany 2010, but failed to get even a draw during its six group stage matches.

NOTABLE TUNE-UP FRIENDLIES — At La Manga, in February, a less than full strength Switzerland squad lost 0:10 to the USA and then 0:5 to both Germany and Norway. But, in July, Switzerland had a much more positive result: a 1:1 draw with Canada.

FIVE U-17 PLAYERS BROUGHT UP — Switzerland’s U-17 WNT made it to the final stage of UEFA’s U-17 WWC qualifying tournament, but fell to France in their decisive semifinal match. (UEFA.com) Those five players include forward Sabrina Ribeaud plus midfielders Audrey Wuichet and Carmen Pulver, who scored 9, 7, and 6 goals respectively for the U-17s, although two of Switzerland’s matches were blowout wins (17:1 over Georgia and 15:0  versus Latvia). Also, there is a sixth U-17 player, Mirnije Selimi, who was not a part of the U-17 squad.

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