(Soccer America continues its countdown to the 2015 Women's World Cup with the 10th of 20 profiles of the women to watch in Canada.)
Japan will return to the Women's World Cup as defending champion. But its captain and free-kick specialist, Aya Miyama, likes to
believe the Nadeshiko will be an underdog in Canada. Four years ago, she was one of the humble heroes of Japan's shootout win over the USA, too respectful to celebrate in front of her American
AYA MIYAMA: Country: Japan Age: 30. Position: Midfielder Club: Okayama Yunogo Belle
At the age of 30, Miyama has already played 12 seasons with
Okayama Yunogo Belle with a two-year break to play in WPS, where she had the bad luck of having two teams fold in six months -- the Los Angeles Sol and Saint Louis Athletica -- before finishing up at
She is considered one of women's soccer's best specialists at free kicks with two goals against England from dead balls at the 2007 Women's World Cup and another against New
Zealand in 2011.
Miyama, winner of the Asian Player of the Year award in 2011 and 2012, scored against the USA in the 2011 final and also converted her penalty kick in the shootout the
Japanese won to capture the title. Miyama didn't celebrate afterward, instead going over to console U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, her teammate in St. Louis and
"She wanted to show
the Americans respect because she knew how much it hurt us," Solo later said during an appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman." "I had to tell her, 'Aya, you won the World Cup, the first time
in your nation's history, celebrate please!"
Japan returns to the
Women's World Cup, having won the tough Asian qualifying tournament, but it is not a favorite this time.
"Our goal is to win this World Cup," Miyama told FIFA.com. "We will play [hard] to achieve it. But we should shrug
off the state of mind as defending champions and start as underdogs."
The Nadeshiko may be a team caught between generations, too old to repeat as champion -- 17 of the 23 players at
training camp that opened Monday in Kagawa Prefecture return from the 2011 team -- but not yet ready to pass the mantle to youngsters like Mana Iwabuchi, the
only player on the squad under the age of 24.
"Japanese women's soccer has a history of over 30 years," Miyama told FIFA.com. "We owe our development and successes to the efforts by the
former national team players who are seniors to me. They did their job well even before I started my career. We should continue what they have started and the most important work is developing the