Having made her debut for Japan 18 years ago, aged 15, and now a veteran of five FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, Homare Sawa is in a unique position to comment on the situation the Nadeshiko currently find themselves in.
Playing some of the finest football of the tournament in Germany, Japan have eliminated the hosts – and reigning champions – and in-form Sweden on their way to setting up a final against women’s football heavyweights USA.
Sawa admitted she cannot quite believe what has happened. "I've played as a national team member for 18 years now. I could never imagine myself being in the final of the World Cup, until some years ago," she told FIFA.com.
"To be in the Final is, to be honest, like a dream. It has been a long journey for our women's national team to reach this point and I feel very happy to be at the best stage with my team-mates."
Attempting to deny Japan in the final in Frankfurt will be Pia Sundhage’s United States team, who have battled through to the showpiece on sheer will at times. Both sides adopt contrasting styles, with Japan relying on a short-passing possession game, and USA using a more direct approach to make the most of their aerial prowess.
"The win against Germany gave us confidence, but we have never been the world champion. We are always a challenger," 32-year-old Sawa conceded. "Personally, I have a special feeling to play the Final against USA, it's the country that made me a better player. I think the god of football gave me a big chance."
But Sawa retains hope: "I've played in the US league and I know most of the players. We know USA are a great and strong team but they have weak points too and there's always a chance to score."
With Sawa in the team, Japan do indeed always offer a goal threat. She currently tops the tournament scoring chart, alongside Brazil’s Marta, with four goals. The midfielder could therefore be forgiven for having half an eye on the Golden Boot.
"It would be great if I could receive the Golden Boot Award, but I'm concentrating on the team's result," the No10 insisted. "The most important thing for me is to go for our goal of being champions. It is something that only comes as a result of working hard for the team's win."
Playing for the people at home
Sawa has spent much of her club career moving between the United States and Japan, and currently plays in her homeland for INAC Leonessa. Possibly entering the final years of her playing life, Germany 2011 could be her last FIFA Women’s World Cup but for now, she is not thinking too far ahead.
She said: "I think I'm good at switching my mode from football to private time, and I think this is one of the reasons why I've been playing for the national team for 18 years. I enjoy my life off the pitch as well as football. I don't know about the future, but I want to keep playing as long as possible. But for now, I'm concentrated on the match."
Japan’s success holds extra poignancy given the problems the country has suffered since an earthquake rocked the nation in March this year. Sawa expressed her hope that the team's performance could have an impact back home. "The time is not easy for Japan at the moment, after we had the quake," she explained.
"I feel grateful for being able to play football, more than I've felt in the past. I hope we can give strength and encouragement to the Japanese people back home. I hope our football has given a chance for future players and children to dream. Uniting all the strength of Japanese women's football and Japanese football, we will go for the championship."