SAKAI, OASKA PREF. – Homare Sawa just couldn’t take it anymore.
The former FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year tore into Nadeshiko Japan on Thursday, questioning the heart of some of the players after a disastrous start to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics qualifying campaign.
The morning after Japan on Wednesday allowed archrival South Korea a 1-1 draw at the death, two days following a 3-1 defeat to Australia, Sawa said she has been unconvinced by the performances from her old team and wonders how many of the players truly want to play in Rio.
Sitting in fifth place with juust one point in the six-team, round-robin qualifying tournament, Nadeshiko can win its remaining three games against China, Vietnam and North Korea, and possibly still fail to qualify for the Summer Games.
Japan has qualified for the last three Olympics, winning a silver in London four years ago.
“I know this sounds harsh but watching from the outside, I really wonder how many of the players are out on the pitch dying to win, giving it their all for the team,” former Japan captain Sawa said. “I don’t sense enough desire, to be truthful.
“The last couple of performances have been rough, to be perfectly honest. You’re looking at a case where if they don’t win the next game, the worst could happen. They’re in a pretty bad situation.
“At both ends of the pitch, be it challenges, chasing down loose balls or whatever, I’m not getting the feeling that everyone on the squad is on the same page.
“They have no choice but to win. A draw won’t be good enough. You can’t improve technique or tactics in just one day so you have to try to communicate better.”
Some of her old teammates agree with the 2011 Women’s World Cup MVP and top scorer that Japan has been subpar through the first two games.
“Time is not on our side,” said forward Yuki Ogimi, who inherited the No. 10 shirt from Sawa. “Each and every one of us has to understand what their role is in helping us win. If the individual doesn’t change, neither will the team. That’s what it boils down to…”
Said captain Aya Miyama, “It’s not only today, she (Sawa) always looks out for us. I feel responsible. I really hope we can have a good game.”
Sawa, who retired at the end of last season, paid the Japanese camp a visit on Thursday amid her commentary work for tournament broadcaster NHK, urging the players in person to keep their chins up ahead of Friday’s match against China, which is second in the group behind Australia.
Whether Sawa’s tough love will awaken the Nadeshiko remains to be seen, but Japan’s all-time caps leader (205) and top goalscorer (83) implored Norio Sasaki’s side to not give up — not only for themselves but for the sake of Japanese women’s soccer, which has had an impressive run through the major competitions since its triumph five years ago in Germany.
“When I was a player, I was always trying to come up with ways to help the team out,” Sawa said. “A few of the girls might be playing with a sense of crisis but it takes the entire team to get the job done.
“I also don’t think they’ve gotten a break yet. If they do, the circumstances could change just like that. I want them to go to Rio. I don’t want the momentum we’ve had for women’s football to end here.
“The opportunity is still there. Everyone has to fight to the death in the next three games.”