Japan’s bid to retain the FIFA Women’s World Cup received a boost when the Nadeshiko were placed in a dream group for the 2015 tournament after Saturday’s draw, which contrastingly put the US on a rocky road to the final.
The Nadeshiko — named after a frilly pink carnation — will be expected to brush aside Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador in Group C clashes that coach Norio Sasaki said would serve as useful practice as they look to bloom in the business end of the competition in Canada, which is to kickoff in June next year.
“If you see the teams on paper, yes, they do look like easy opponents,” Sasaki told local media after the draw pitted the Japanese against three first-time qualifiers.
“But we won’t disrespect any side. It will be important to finish top of the group in style and for everyone to be focused on going on to win the title again,” he added.
Japan stunned the US in a penalty shootout in 2011 to become the first Asian country to win a FIFA World Cup at any level, with the players seemingly embodying the iron-willed spirit of a nation battling to recover from the deadly earthquake and tsunami, and resulting nuclear crisis that hit the country earlier that year.
Sasaki’s side added the AFC Women’s Asian Cup to their trophy haul earlier this year. They were pipped to the gold by the US at the 2012 London Olympics.
Their fierce US rivals were drawn in a devilish Group D with Australia — ranked 10th in the world by FIFA — Nigeria and Sweden, with the latter a European powerhouse ranked fifth in the world and only unseeded for geographic reasons.
US coach Jill Ellis insisted that the games would be good preparation for the later stages of the tournament as her side quest for a third World Cup title and their first since 1999.
Germany are the only other two-time winners of the event, which was first played in 1991.
“It’s a good group to get us ready to play,” Ellis said. “It’s probably the toughest group, but we’ve got a lot of depth on our roster. That’s historically been the path the USA has taken and we’re obviously going to embrace it. You’ve got to play good teams to win it. We’ll be ready.”
Adding intrigue to the finals, Sweden coach Pia Sundhage was in charge of the US when they won back-to-back Olympic titles, before she took the helm of her native country’s squad in September 2012.
The former Sweden international said she thought it was “weird” that sixth-ranked Brazil, rather than fifth-ranked Sweden, were seeded, but added: “I’m not the person who can do anything about it. You just accept it and go with it.”
Meanwhile, Australia coach Alen Stajcic promised that the Matildas feared no rival in the competition.
“We can’t wait to play the No. 1 team in the world in the first game,” he said of his side’s crunch game against the US in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 8.
“You expect to play the best teams at a World Cup and we certainly got that in our group. It’s no holds barred playing possibly the toughest teams in each pot,” Stajcic said.
The seventh edition of the Women’s World Cup is to feature 24 teams for the first time — up from the previous 16 — with the top-two finishers from each group automatically advancing to the last 16.
Hosts Canada are to open the tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, on June 6 against China, with New Zealand and the Netherlands rounding out Group A.
The final is to be held in Vancouver on July 5.
Germany, who won in 2003 and 2007, could also breathe a sigh of relief after being drawn in Group B, which includes 1995 champions Norway, but also inexperienced Ivory Coast and Thailand.
Brazil, led by five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Marta, launch their bid for a first World Cup crown against South Korea, fast-improving Spain and Costa Rica in Group E, while France — ranked fourth in the world — are to take on England, Colombia and Mexico in Group F.
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