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World Cup scouting report: How Japan could beat the USWNT

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Young forward Riko Ueki is a player to watch for Japan at the 2023 World Cup. (Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

As the U.S. women’s national team prepares for the 2023 World Cup, Just Women’s Sports is taking a look at its opponents — including its three group-stage adversaries and its potential matchups in the knockout rounds.

Next up is another familiar opponent: Japan.

Manager: Futoshi Ikeda

After stints with Japan’s U-20 and U-17 women’s teams, Futoshi Ikeda was elevated to senior national team head coach in 2021. The 52-year-old led the U-20 team to the World Cup title in 2018.

Key player: Riko Ueki

Riko Ueki is a young force for a Japanese team that could make waves in the World Cup. While Mina Tanaka is Japan’s most experienced goal scorer, Ueki had a team-high five goals during the 2023 Asian Cup. Playing without fear of opposing defenders, the 23-year-old can wear opposing players down with her speed and be a scoring threat at all times.

Angel City forward Jun Endo could also provide a boost for Japan, but injuries this spring create cause for concern.

World Cup history

Japan has a long World Cup history, having qualified for every single tournament since the Women’s World Cup began in 1991. In 2011, they beat the USWNT to win their first and only World Cup title. In 2015, they finished as runners-up to the USWNT, adding another chapter to the teams’ familiarity on the World Cup stage.

After losing to the Netherlands in the Round of 16 in 2019, Japan will be looking to get back on top once again.

Group Stage schedule

Japan will play in Group C alongside Spain, Costa Rica and Zambia. Take a look at the schedule below, or check out the full World Cup schedule.

  • Saturday, July 22 – 3 a.m. (FS1)
    • Japan vs. Zambia
  • Wednesday, July 26 – 1 a.m. (FS1)
    • Japan vs. Costa Rica
  • Monday, July 31 – 3 a.m. (FOX)
    • Japan vs. Spain

Keys to beat the USWNT

Japan is a favorite, alongside Spain, to advance out of Group C. After a disappointing exit in 2019, Japan has had to rebuild. Now fielding a team that looks much different than it did in 2011 and 2015, Japan has some young stars ready to make their names known.

They’ll face a red-hot Zambia in their first game, and luckily have some time to warm up before closing out the group stage against Spain.

Japan’s younger squad is relatively unknown to the USWNT, which has 14 player of its own making their World Cup debuts. The U.S. roster will be relatively familiar with Japan’s NWSL representatives, Hina Sugita and Jun Endo. More than anything, this Japan team is playing with a sense of urgency, which could be dangerous for the USWNT.

“We were very disappointed not to progress further in the past. If we don’t dig in our nails now, it’s only going to get tougher for women’s football in this country,” Sugita said recently.

Japan will need to rely on its goal-scorers against a team like the USWNT. They recently followed up a 1-0 loss to Denmark with a 5-0 win over Panama, evidence of the type of inconsistent performances they cannot afford in the World Cup, and especially against the U.S.