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Homare Sawa (8) in training with club side INAC Kobe Leonessa. The midfielder has endured a difficult recovery from BPPV, but may feature in the opening L.League game on 15 April (Image courtesy of the official INAC Kobe Leonessa blog)


There are some positive developments to report in Homare Sawa’s on-going battle to return to full fitness after having been diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). The disorder is characterised by repeated, short-term onset of dizziness, and is caused by the movement of calcium crystals from their normal position within the utricle of the inner ear to the semicircular canals, with this build-up of calcium affecting the movement of fluid within the area and causing the onset of vertigo. The Mainichi Shimbun confirms that the current FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year may recover in time for the opening game of the L.League season versus Speranza FC Osaka Takatsuki on 15 April. The 33 year-old resumed training with the ball at the end of March, and has featured in a full practice match against Osaka Toin High School’s men’s team in her bid to return. It is good news for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Winner, whose progress was set back when she was forced to miss the training camp for the 2012 Algarve Cup and to continue her rehabilitation at home, and the Nadeshiko’s attempt to win the title at London 2012.

The Asahi Shimbun focuses on the performance of Japan’s overseas players, starting with Samurai Blue Shinji Kagawa. The 23 year old attacking midfielder had a relatively quiet game for Borussia Dortmund in their 3-1 win away to VfL Wolfsburg, and was substituted after 81 minutes, but he would have recorded an assist had Robert Lewandowski not squandered a one-on-one opportunity with goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. Makoto Hasebe was an unused substitute for Wolsburg, and the Bundesliga turns its attention to the mouthwatering clash between table-topping Die Schwarzgelben and Bayern Munich, who lie only three points behind in second place and hold a significant advantage in terms of goal difference. With just five matches remaining in the Bundesliga season, the game at Borussia’s Westfalenstadion on 11 April will play a major role in deciding the destination of the league title.

Der FCB kept up the pressure on Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 triumph over FC Augbsurg at the Allianz Arena. The Fuggerstädter midfielder Hajime Hosogai, who played for all but 8 minutes of the match was unable to prevent his team from falling to defeat to the German giants, for whom Takashi Usami, on loan from Gamba Osaka, has since been moved to the reserve team.

Elsewhere in the division, Gotoku Sakai played the full 90 minutes for VfB Stuttgart as they completed a 4-1 victory at home to Mainz. The 22 year-old full-back has made a bright start to his Bundesliga career since joining Stuttgart on loan from Albirex Niigata in January, who have the option to make the deal permanent should he continue to impress. Fellow Die Roten teammate Shinji Okazaki also made an appearance, coming on as an 86th minute replacement for Martin Harnik.

And finally, the Sankei Shimbun notes the contribution Japan men’s national team goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima made to Lierse S.K.’s 2-1 play-off derby victory against K.V. Mechelen, saving spectacularly from Boris Pandža to prevent an equaliser. The play-offs, which are contested between those in seventh to fourteenth positions in the Belgian Pro League, are used to decide which teams will be the country’s representatives in the Europa League. Lierse are currently second in Group A after two matches, two points behind Cercle Brugge.

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Homare Sawa’s recovery from benign paroxysmal postural vertigo continues to be plagued with difficulty. The Nadeshiko’s greatest ever player has returned to Kobe having withdrawn from INAC Leonessa Kobe’s training camp in Kagoshima, confirms the Asahi Shimbun. Sawa will continue her rehabilitation with a separate training programme in Kobe.

The Yomiuri Shimbun notes that Ami Otaki, the 22 year-old forward who joined Olympique Lyonnais’ women’s team at the end of January, made her UEFA Women’s Champions League debut for the current title holders, coming on in the 57th minute as they romped to a 4-0 win over Brøndby IF and an 8-0 aggregate scoreline to reach their fifth European semi-final. Otaki, who is yet to make an appearance for the senior Japanese women’s national team, scored 45 goals in just 30 matches for Waseda University prior to joining Lyon.

And finally, in his first press conference as new manager of FC Yokohama, Motohiro Yamaguchi says he is looking to instill a “sense of dynamism” in the football club, reports the Yomiuri Shimbun. Reflecting on the two losses suffered by the team, Yamaguchi opined that “[a difficult situation] can be changed by everyone facing in the same direction [and] the players want to restore confidence”. Yamaguchi has also amended the team’s training schedule, requiring squad members to attend both morning and afternoon sessions rather than a single practice held in the morning.

Ami Otaki, pictured signing her contract with Olympique Lyonnais on 31 January 2012. The 22 year-old forward made her club and UEFA Women's Champions League debut on 21 March, coming on as a substitute as Lyon eased to a 4-0 win over Brøndby

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The Nikkei Shimbun opens with a story first reported in the German newspaper Bild. A month after a prospective loan move to FC Nuremburg collapsed, a verbal agreement has been struck between Takashi Usami and Die Altmeister to join at the end of the 2011-12 season. The 19 year-old attacking midfielder, who is already part way through a loan deal at Bayern Munich from Gamba Osaka but has struggled to make an impression at the Bavarian giants and appears primarily for the reserve side Bayern Munich II, wishes to stay in Germany and the deal will include an option to make the move permanent should the teenager from Kyoto prove a success.

Sagan Tosu’s historic first win in a J.League Division 1 competition gains the attention of the Asahi Shimbun. “Nabisco Cup Joy” is the headline following Sagan’s 2-1 victory over Kawasaki Frontale, with a defensive first-half performance followed by goals in the 53rd and 65th minutes from Shohei Osaka and Ryunosuke Noda sufficient to give the team from Saga Prefecture the points, a Takuro Yajima finish 12 minutes from full-time proving scant consolation for Frontale.

And finally, the Yomiuri Shimbun provides an update on the progress of Homare Sawa in recovering from benign paroxysmal postural vertigo. Sawa is watching eagerly from the bench even in training for INAC Kobe Leonessa, and she has been undertaking muscle exercises to aid her recuperation. Manager Kei Hoshikawa said that “[it’s] too soon to play soccer [and her comeback] can’t be rushed”.

Homare Sawa diagnosed with vertigo

Homare Sawa, the current FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, has been diagnosed with vertigo. Sawa, who was absent for two matches during the 2012 Algarve Cup which Japan lost 4-3 to Germany in added time, has benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. The condition, caused by problems in the inner ear, is characterised by symptoms including short-term, repeated bursts of dizziness. In a statement issued via her club, INAC Leonessa Kobe, Sawa stated that she hopes to return to training as soon as possible.

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The Asahi Shimbun runs a small feature on the newly promoted J.League Division Two side Matsumoto Yamaga, focusing on the training camp being run under the auspices of the new manager Yasuharu Sorimachi. Sorimachi was hired for the position owing to his predecessor Yoshiyuki Kato not having the requisite coaching credentials for a professional team. Sorimachi led the session, which was opened up to supporters of the Ptarmigans, with his squad of 30 focusing on light exercise and technical drills. The Nagoya Prefecture side begin their league campaign away to Shonan Bellmare on 4 March, following by their first professional home fixture at the Matsumotodaira Football Stadium against Montedio Yamagata a week later.

The power of Japanese women through the ages, including the evolution of language through the invention of kana, to the present time and the boom of women’s football owing to the exploits of the modern day heroine Homare Sawa occupies the thoughts of Ryuzo Morioka in The Daily Mainichi. Morioka, the former Japanese international defender capped thirty-eight times by the Samurai Blue, and now a coach at Kyoto Sanga, talks about “Pink Power”, and that young boys should surely be impressed and inspired by the achievements of the Nadeshiko, self-mockingly suggesting that he is perfectly aware of female strength owing to the number within the Morioka household.

And finally, Nippon Sports takes on the increasingly protracted and convoluted negotiations which could see Keisuke Honda leave PFC CSKA Moscow for Italian giants SS Lazio. The 25 year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with a host of clubs across Europe in recent years, and the Corriere Dello Sport reported that there is some distance between the fee Lazio are willing to pay, with an EUR 2 million loan fee followed by a full transfer fee of EUR 10m being proffered six months later, compared to an EUR 16m fee being demanded by the Russian club. A further complication is that Lazio has a full complement of foreign players, and will need to loan or sell one of its current overseas contingent to allow Honda to play. With the transfer window closing in Italy at midnight on 2 February, and a significant gap in the valuations of the two clubs, there is little optimism that a deal will be concluded this winter.

(Keisuke Honda opens the scoring with a free-kick for Japan against Denmark in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Group E game. Japan would go on to win the match 3-1 with goals from Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Okazaki)

Homare Sawa looks to the future

Given Homare Sawa’s international career with the Nadeshiko Japan began at the age of 15, one could perhaps forgive the now 33 year-old if she had chosen to bow out of football following an unprecedented and extraordinarily successful year in which she captained the victorious 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup national team, winning the tournament’s Golden Shoe and Golden Boot, leading INAC Kobe Leonessa to its L.League and All Japan Championship double, followed by being awarded the 2011 Women’s World Player of the Player. Sawa, however, has dismissed any suggestions of retirement by focusing immediately on achieving success at the 2012 Olympics. As Sawa stated during a press conference in Tokyo:

This has marked a great start for the year and I will aim with all members of the team for the top of the London Olympics podium. I think I could give many children goals and dreams [and] I could prove that nothing is impossible for Japanese or whoever.

Head Coach Norio Sasaki went on to underline Sawa’s continued importance to the national team:

“With Sawa at the centre, I want to complete the team-building process we have been doing since 2008.

The Nadeshiko narrowly missed out on a meal at the 2008 games, being beaten to the bronze following a 2-0 defeat to Germany in Beijing. However, as the women’s Olympic tournament does not suffer from the same age limitations placed on the men’s game, the reigning world champions have every opportunity of taking gold in London and becoming the first team in women’s football history to win both World and Olympic titles in consecutive years.

Sawa’s achievements, meanwhile, should provide a lasting legacy to football in Japan. Long deprived of funding and respect, the performance of Sawa, Sasaki and the national team not only provide unequivocal confirmation of the possibility of success at the very highest levels for young Japanese turning their attention to the game, but they also set a benchmark for the Samurai Blue to aim for. With Sawa’s previous participation at five FIFA Women’s World Cups and three Olympic Games, the 2012 tournament may well prove to be her swansong. Although future success is not guaranteed, her ranking amongst the greatest women to ever have played the game is surely not in doubt.

Homare Sawa wins 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year

On 9 January 2012, at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, the hugely impressive achievements of the Nadeshiko Japan in 2011 were recognised by the football world. Homare Sawa was named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. This continues a remarkable run of awards for Japan’s record goal scorer and most capped player, scoring the equalising goal in the 117th minute of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final to take the match into a penalty shoot-out, as well as winning the Golden Shoe for the tournament’s best player and the Golden Boot for top scorer.

Norio Sasaki received the accolade for FIFA Women’s Football Coach of the Year having guided Japan to its first world title, and Junji Ogura, President of the Japanese Football Association together with Sawa collected the FIFA Fair Play Award for the impressive courage and spirit shown by Japan as they recovered from the terrible earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastated large parts of the nation.