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Tokyo: Japan head coach Norio Sasaki believes his current side will head to June’s FIFA Women’s World Cup much improved from when they were victorious at the global extravaganza in 2011.

That emotional success, achieved thanks to a dramatic win over the USA, underlined Japan’s standing as a powerhouse of the women’s game, a lofty position that was subsequently reinforced when the Nadeshiko finished second to their American rivals a year later at the Olympic Games in London, and again when they claimed the AFC Women’s Asian Cup crown in 2014.

Four years on from their famous World Cup triumph, and as Japan continue preparations to defend their coveted World Cup title in Canada, Sasaki sees encouraging signs throughout his talent-laden squad, although the 56-year-old tactician has also been quick to sound a note of caution.

“The players gained some excellent experience during the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics, and I believe that individually they have really developed over the past four years. I think I have a better team now than I did in 2011,” Sasaki told FIFA’s official website.

“But the truth is that many other international teams have also greatly improved the level of their football. I believe the Nadeshiko is continuing to develop, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform against these other teams.

“Furthermore, in 2011, our team aimed to win the World Cup. But since we triumphed in that tournament, the whole of Japan is watching us and there is a feeling of expectation that we should win this time. With this extra motivation, this tournament will be a major opportunity for further growth of the team at the top level.”

For the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Japan have been drawn in Group C alongside three tournament newcomers in the shape of Switzerland – the East Asian’s opening opponents on June 8 – Cameroon and Ecuador.

With many observers making them favorites to progress to the knockout phase, Sasaki, while confident of success, is adamant that his side cannot afford to become complacent given the quality set to be on display in Canada.

“There are many countries that will be our rivals at the tournament,” the 2011 AFC Coach of Year explained.

“We have a good chance of defending the title, although it will depend on our preparation in the final months. Provided I can form a clear picture of what we have to do, I believe it will be possible to defend our title.”

Photo: AFP