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.