Football: More players overseas give Japan captain Kumagai new hope

Counting a record-high nine squad members playing club football overseas, Japan captain Saki Kumagai believes their experience will have a positive impact beyond the ongoing World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Nadeshiko Japan had four overseas-based players when they won the 2011 World Cup in Germany. The number rose to six in 2015 and was down to two in 2019 before it jumped for this year's tournament.

Kumagai moved to Frankfurt after the 2011 World Cup and joined Lyon in 2013, winning the Champions League five straight times at the renowned French side, where she honed her skills week in and week out vying with the world's best players.

"There are lots of players who have just come (out of Japan), but they have finally made their overseas moves. Things will definitely change," Kumagai, who left Bayern Munich for Roma over the summer ahead of the World Cup, said before the tournament.

While the 2021 launch of Japan's professional WE League will hopefully nurture domestic talent, Kumagai feels players can only grasp the difference in speed and physical strength by playing overseas. For those playing domestically, international matches with Japan are the only occasions that offer them real tests.

"Honestly speaking, it is wasteful," Kumagai said. "If you get to experience these (high-intensity games) every day, you will get used to it. Once you look at it that way, there is no reason not to come over."

Other players based in Europe include Kumagai's new Roma teammate and fellow defender Moeka Minami, Manchester City playmaker Yui Hasegawa and Liverpool midfielder Fuka Nagano. Hina Sugita of the Portland Thorns and Jun Endo of Angel City ply their trade in the United States.

One of the latest Nadeshiko players to make the move overseas was right-back Risa Shimizu, who left Tokyo Verdy Beleza for England's West Ham last summer.

"We've matured compared to 2019, and we'll be the new force to the team," said the 27-year-old, who have put in two solid performances so far in New Zealand.

Japan have already qualified for the last 16 at the World Cup after hammering Zambia 5-0 and downing Costa Rica 2-0. Japan must beat Spain in Wellington on Monday to qualify as Group C winners due to Spain's superior goal difference.

© Kyodo News