No team can take the Sakuras lightly at the London Games

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Current world ranking # 9 (1318 points)

Clubbed with the Netherlands, Great Britain, China, Korea and Belgium in pool A in the London Olympics.

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Best result: Eighth position at the 2004 Games.

Last Olympics: Finished tenth.

Japan, with 1318 points, is the third-highest ranked team from Asia, after China and Korea. The Japanese eves although have had two moderate outings at the Olympics till date but their best performance came only after the 2008 Olympics. In 2011, they won the Champions Challenge in Dublin while finished a strong fifth in the Champions Trophy early this year.

The Road to London:

The Sakuras (meaning Cherry Blossom) as the Japan team is called, won the third and final women's qualification tournament in Kakamigahara where they thrashed Azerbaijan 5-1 in the final game. The only moderate performance during their six-match qualifying mission was a 0-0 draw against Chile. The team is guided by veteran coach Zenjiro Yasuda. Yasuda has helped the team grow stronger with each of its outing and that is evident in the team's latest games. Japan was undefeated in the qualifying matches.

Players to watch out for:

Akemi Kato, 41, the oldest player in the women's hockey and also among the oldest athletes at the London Games. A veteran of nearly 400 caps, Kato, however, is still a force and can keep up with the speedy squad. Kaori Fujio, Rika Komazawa, Sachimi Iwao will be the other players to look out for.

Plus:

1. Speed.
2. High fitness level.
3. Terrific discipline, both on and off the field (the team has ever been known to bow to its opponent after every match, no matter what the result is).
4. Some solid scorers up front.

Minus:

1. Prone to dull performance at times.

Chances of progress at London Games: 5/10

Going by their recent performance, they should do well but Japan still lacks a substantial exposure at the mega showdown. Plus, teams like the Netherlands, Germany, China and Korea would throw tough challenge at the Sakuras. They might pull out a few upsets as a rising power in Olympic hockey. Japan will start their campaign against hosts Great Britain on July 29.

Squad: Sachiyo Asano (GK), Ai Murakami, Nagisa Hayashi, Keiko Manabe, Akemi Kato, Chie Akutsu, Yukari Yamamoto, Rika Komazawa, Miyuki Nakagawa, Sachimi Iwao, Masako Sato, Izuki Tanaka, Akane Shibata, Aki Mitsuhashi, Kaori Fujio and Shiho Otsuka.

Coach: Zenjiro Yasuda.

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