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2023 Women's World Cup

How Japan became the most exciting, dominant team at the 2023 World Cup

Photo: Joe Serci / SPP

Japan has been amazing through four games at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The Nadeshhiko have racked up four wins, 12 non-penalty goals from 10.5 non-penalty expected goals (npxG), have conceded only one goal against 1.7 npxG, and have been more or less tactically flawless since the first whistle blew against Zambia in Hamilton, New Zealand, nearly three weeks ago.

Winger Hinata Miyazawa is currently the Golden Boot leader with five goals to her name. Striker Riko Ueki sits in second on the non-penalty xG/90 leaderboard with 1.14. To the undiscerning eye, this type of performance would appear utterly extraordinary for a team few picked to progress deep into the tournament. The truth is, nearly all of us lacked that discernment.

How are they doing this? By working as a complete unit in a 3-4-3 that quickly morphs into a 5-4-1 out of possession. It might not be a struggle to dominate Zambia and Costa Rica, but it is another task entirely to do the same to the likes of Spain and Norway, who Japan defeated by a combined scoreline of 7-1. Here are some stats through the first four games that reveal just how Japan’s defensive tactics manifest. Ranks are among the teams who reached the Round of 16.  

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