To date, Japan have taken part in three editions of the Olympic Football Tournament and their performances have improved with each appearance. While at Atlanta 1996 they lost all three of their games and crashed out in the group phase, at Athens 2004 they reached the quarter-finals. Four years later in Beijing, the Nadeshiko went one better, making the semis, where they would go down 4-2 to subsequent gold medallists, USA. The Asian side would eventually finish fourth after losing the match for third place with Germany.
Japan’s progress since Norio Sasaki was appointed coach in 2008 has been notable. Sasaki’s hard work and long-term planning produced spectacular fruits in 2011, when his side lifted the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany. As well as this collective success, both Sasaki and team captain Homare Sawa were honoured at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2011, where they picked up the Women’s Coach of the Year and Women’s World Player of the Year awards respectively.
Six weeks after being crowned world champions in Frankfurt, Japan made light of their hectic schedule and lived up to expectations by winning four of their five qualifying games to secure an Olympic berth.
So far they have coped admirably with the additional pressure that being favourites and world champions entails. The team continue to value the facets of play that have served them so well in recent years: good ball control, short passing and excellent interplay that owes much to the side’s fine individual talents. That said, the team ethic still takes precedence over the star performers, even when it comes to a world player of the year. “I’m not thinking about winning individual accolades this year. I’d rather succeed as a team, and in that sense I hope we can win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics,” Sawa said at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in January.
Facts and figures
Mio Otani, Eriko Arakawa
Homare Sawa, Aya Miyama, Ayumi Kaihori, Nahomi Kawasumi
With four wins from five games, Japan’s near-perfect qualifying record was only marred when a stoppage-time equaliser earned tournament runners-up and fellow London 2012 qualifiers Korea DPR a 1-1 draw. However, despite the ease with which they qualified, the Nadeshiko failed to dazzle up front, scoring a modest eight goals, while conceding just two.
The numbers game
4 - Japan’s captain Homare Sawa will be competing in her fourth Olympic Football tournament in London. The 33-year-old will be the only Japanese player to have competed in the four editions of the tournament her country has appeared in.