Women’s World Cup: Favorites Canada and Japan open play on Monday

The buzz: Japan, the reigning Asian champion, made it to the finals of the last two Women’s World Cups, beating the U.S. in 2011 and losing to the Americans in 2015. This is a new team with a new coach. Asako Takakura, the first woman to manage the national team, has returned just five of the 14 players who appeared in the 2015 final, although she’s kept Japan’s traditional quick-passing, technically savvy attacking style, one that relies heavily on the abilities of forwards Kumi Yokoyama and Mana Iwabuchi. Although seventh-ranked Japan has played in every Women’s World Cup, Argentina missed the last two, and its national program was disbanded entirely for more than two years following the 2015 Pan American Games. As a result, the team has little international experience, but it does have talent, especially in 22-year-old forward Milagros Menéndez. Argentina needed to beat Panama in a two-game playoff last fall to win one of the final berths in this tournament.

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