The Japanese women's victory against Korea DPR in the Asian Games football final has fired up the Blue Samurai as they bid to recapture the AFC Asian Cup in January.
Japan beat North Korea 1-0 on Monday to win the women's tournament, which has no upper age-limit as in the men's event, avenging their final loss in 2006 to lift the country's first-ever Asiad football title for either sex.
It inspired Alberto Zaccheroni, the new manager of Japan's senior men's national team, to issue a statement. "Nadeshiko Japan have left the marks of their strength and growth through this competition," he said, citing the nickname of the women's team, Nadeshiko, which is a sweet-smelling plant called 'pink'. Our team also wish to grow up, not to be outdone by Nadeshiko Japan."
The former AC Milan boss took over the Blue Samurai from Takeshi Okada after they reached the last 16 in South Africa this year for their best-ever FIFA World Cup™ result on foreign soil. The Japanese men, three-time Asian Cup winners, are preparing for the 2011 edition in Qatar, hoping to regain the title they lost in 2007.
With the Italian in charge, Japan beat powerhouse Argentina 1-0 at home and drew 0-0 with rivals Korea Republic away in October. Zaccheroni praised the women's team for playing "football with substance" after they lost none of their four matches and conceded no goals.
It was not just sweet revenge for the team but also for veteran playmaker Homare Sawa. "I missed a spot kick in the penalty shoot-out four years ago. So I really wanted to win," said the 32-year-old midfielder for Washington Freedom of USA's Women's Professional Soccer League. "When the game ended, I was overwhelmed with emotion and I felt like crying," added Sawa, who has scored 75 goals in 160 matches for Japan since her international debut 17 years ago.
At the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Japan lost 4-2 on penalties after a scoreless deadlock, allowing North Korea to clinch their second straight title. Sawa, the 2004 and 2008 Asian player of the year, failed to score in Guangzhou with the winner coming from Azusa Iwashimizu in the 74th minute.
"We should not content ourselves with this result but take this as just a transit point," Sawa said, setting her sights on the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™ in Germany next June and the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament in London.
At the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup™ in China, won by Germany, Japan finished ninth behind other Asian Football Confederation sides Australia, China and North Korea.
Coach Norio Sasaki said there were "not so many differences" between China, Japan, Korea DPR and Korea Republic in Guangzhou and that any of them could have won gold. "Having that in mind, we need to intensify our preparation for the Olympic qualifiers and the World Cup," he said.