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Women's Asian Cup: Japan to play opener without star player Mana Iwabuchi

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Pune, Jan 20 (IANS) Two-time defending champion Japan received a major jolt ahead of the AFC Women’s World Cup 2022 when their star player Mana Iwabuchi tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss their opening match against Myanmar on Saturday.

Mana tested positive soon after reaching Mumbai from England and has isolated herself in the facilities organised by the Local Organising committee. The Arsenal player will be in isolation for seven days and return to the squad once she tests negative.

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Mana had tested negative before leaving England for India but tested positive on reaching Mumbai and is asymptomatic, the Japan Football Association said.

Though it’s a setback for the team, head coach Futoshi Ikeda and captain Saki Kumagi said they have enough resources to overcome her absence.

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“It is disappointing that she tested positive on reaching India. We are confident that she will join the team in time for important matches,” said the skipper on Thursday during an online interaction with the media.

Coach Ikeda said though Japan are the two-time defending champions, the Asian Cup 2022 is a new challenge and they want to do their best.

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“We want to win our group, that is the first target,” said Ikeda.

Japan are coming into this event after a disappointing campaign in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 when they failed to win a medal.

Ikeda replaced Asako Takakura after Japan’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics campaign and while Asian Cup 2022 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.

He will be banking on the experience and superior abilities of his players in the Asian Cup.

South Korea and Vietnam are the only other teams in Group C and Japan should easily top their group and go all the way.

–IANS

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