x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Japan captain Homare Sawa wants to add Olympic gold to World Cup win

Homare Sawa says her team will be going for gold at next year's London Olympics as the squad returned home to a heroes' welcome.

TOKYO // Homare Sawa, the Japan captain, said that her team would be going for gold at next year's London Olympics as the squad returned home to a heroes' welcome yesterday following their historic triumph at the women's World Cup.

"It's human nature to want more," Sawa, with a gold medal hanging from her neck, told a packed news conference at a hotel in Tokyo after the team arrived at the capital's Narita airport, thronged by 400 fans and 250 media people.

"With this gold medal in front of me, I really feel that my next goal is to grab the Olympic gold medal as we have yet to get any medal at the Olympics."

Japan, who finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, came from behind twice against the United States before winning 3-1 on penalties in the final of the World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday.

It was the first football World Cup title for any Asian country and lifted spirits in Japan, which has been recovering from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which left 21,000 people dead or missing.

Alberto Zaccheroni, the Italian coach of the men's national team, was full of praise.

"They played brilliantly throughout the tournament. It proves that Japanese football as a whole is moving forward and growing in international football."

"I envy them," said Hidetoshi Nakata, a former Japan midfielder who retired from football after Japan's early exit from the 2006 men's World Cup in Germany.

"With this victory, Nadeshiko has proven that soccer is not only about size and speed," he said, using the team's nickname which means a frilly pink flower seen in Japan as a symbol of feminine beauty and elegance.

With their teamwork, crisp passing and never-say-die attitude more than making up for their physical shortcomings, Japan upset the hosts and holders Germany and Sweden on their way to the final.

"I've come a long way as a member of the Japanese national team over 18 years. I never thought I would get the gold medal," said Sawa, 32, whose career included a stint with US side Washington Freedom.

"The Asian Olympic qualifying round will start this year with other tournaments and matches coming up soon," she said. "I want to condition myself for the battles ahead."

Asian qualifying will be held in China in September with Australia, China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Thailand vying for two Olympic berths.

"We still lag behind the United States and Germany in many aspects," said Sawa, who won the golden boot with five goals and was named the most valuable player at Germany 2011.

Norio Sasaki, the Japan coach, said: "We will really want a medal at the London Olympics. We need to reinforce our basics and stay on our guard."

* Agence France-Presse