Nadeshiko Japan’s Offensive, Defensive Obstacles in FIFA Women’s World Cup

AP file photo
Spain midfielder Alexia Putellas gives chase during the first half of a match against the United States on March 8, 2020, in Harrison, N.J.

Nadeshiko Japan, the women’s national soccer team, aims for more glory at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. This year’s edition of the quadrennial event is being jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, with the opening matches kicking off on July 20.

Nadeshiko, currently ranked 11th in the world, won the Cup in 2011. Four-time winner the United States is the defending champion. The only other teams to win the Cup, Norway and two-time champ Germany, are also in the tournament.

Japan is in Group C and opens play against Zambia on July 22. The African nation, ranked 77th, is making its first appearance in the World Cup. Although Zambia has the lowest ranking among the 32 teams that qualified for the tournament, Japan is not underestimating its first opponent.

“On their forward line are players who have the individual skills to score, and they have the ability to push forward in attack,” said Nadeshiko head coach Futoshi Ikeda.

Daniel Karmann/dpa via AP
Zambia’s Barbra Banda, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring their second goal during a friendly against Germany in Furth, Germany, on July 7.

Zambia forward Barbra Banda is the star of the team. With outstanding speed and sublime finishing skills, she scored hat tricks in two consecutive matches during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She also scored twice in a friendly against powerhouse Germany on July 7, in which the African side defeated the world No. 2 3-2.

If Zambia can improve its defense, the team has the potential to cause a major surprise.

Nadeshiko then face Costa Rica on July 26. Ranked 36th, Costa Rica finished fourth in its confederation to qualify for the Cup, behind the United States, Canada and Jamaica. The team is making its second appearance in the tournament, after making the 2015 World Cup in Canada, where it exited in the group stage. Back then, Costa Rica had fought to a draw with Spain and South Korea, then lost to Brazil.

Known for its defense, Costa Rica is strong in marking, according to Ikeda, and relies on quick counterattacks.

Costa Rica’s key player is attacking midfielder Raquel Rodriguez, who scored in the 2015 World Cup. How to contain her will be critical for Japan to emerge victorious.

Japan ends group play on July 31 against Spain, likely Nadeshiko’s main rival to finish on top of their group. Ranked sixth in the world, Spain made its World Cup debut in 2015 and advanced to the round of 16 in the previous tournament in France in 2019.

All eyes will no doubt be on attacking midfielder Alexia Putellas, who won back-to-back Best FIFA Women’s Player awards in 2021 and 2022. Putellas can create goals for herself as well as provide assists, finding teammates with accurate passes. She looks to lead the Spanish squad after a long layoff with a knee surgery.

Spain has many other stars, including forward Jenni Hermoso, who will be playing in her third consecutive World Cup.

The top two teams in the group advance to the round of 16. Japan looks to top its group for the first time since the 2015 World Cup. The aim for Nadeshiko is to get maximum points from the Zambia and Costa Rica matches before facing Spain.