Pune, Jan 20 (PTI) With a host of quality players in their ranks, two-time defending champions Japan would look for all the points when they open their campaign against Myanmar in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup here on Friday.
The 13th-ranked Asian powerhouse will miss their star striker Mana Iwabuchi due to COVID-19 infection but they have plenty of other quality players and should not face much trouble against Myanmar, ranked 47th in the world, in the Group C march at Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex.
The 2011 FIFA World Cup runners-up team has six players who ply their trade in top-flight professional league in Europe, including Iwabuchi and experienced captain and Bayern Munich defender Saki Kumagai, who has 120 international caps under her belt.
Iwabuchi will, however, miss Friday’s match and some of the later fixtures also after testing positive for COVID-19 on arrival in India on Tuesday. The Arsenal striker had reached India separately from Britain.
Defending their title, the pressure will be on Japan, rather than than Myanmar, but ‘Nadeshiko’ head coach Futoshi Ikeda is confident of achieving her side’s goal.
“We are the defending champions but this is a new challenge and we will do our best,” said Ikeda in the pre-match press conference on Thursday.
“I want to prepare the players so that they confidence on the pitch. It’s important to unite our members and show our capability to achieve our goal.” Ikeda replaced Asako Takakura after Tokyo Olympics campaign and while the Asian Cup will be his first official tournament with the Nadeshiko, he is no stranger to the women’s national team, having previously led the U-17 and U-20 sides.
Japan faced Myanmar in the 2010 edition where they emerged 8-0 victors, but Ikeda is not taking any chances against the Southeast Asians.
“I think Myanmar is one of the growing teams in Asia, and they move quickly with the ball with speedy players. We must not allow them time and space.” Myanmar’s preparations were marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented them from travelling and playing matches.
“We weren’t able to play any international friendlies or matches overseas, and couldn’t travel due to COVID. In these past two months, we’ve been playing against the U-13 and U-14 teams, as well as playing each other,” said head coach Tin Myint Aung.
“Japan is a high-level team, with quality players. We’ve analysed them and have prepared accordingly. We will try to compete at their level, and I told my players to give their best performance, it doesn’t matter if we lose or win.” In another Group C match at the same venue, Korea, who are seeking to end their title drought, face Vietnam in their opening match.
Korea have qualified for every edition of the tournament since 1991, with a third-placed finish in 2003 being their best achievement.
In Vietnam, they will play a team who are also regulars in this tournament, having made every finals since 1999. PTI PDS PDS AH AH
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