Even a stunning 5-2 loss to the United States can’t harm the legacy of Homare Sawa, who likely made her final World Cup appearance in Sunday’s match. That’s how many of her local supporters feel, at least.
Sawa “means a lot not only for our city but also Japan. She gave us a lot to cheer for,” said Daisuke Kofuji, who grew up with Sawa in the Tokyo suburb of Fuchu. “If she is physically well, I want her to continue to play (in the next World Cup). But it is her decision.”
More than 120 fans gathered at the Fuchu Shinmachi Culture Center on Monday morning to take in the tournament final, which was played in Vancouver. The cheers turned to sighs every time the U.S. scored a goal, but they never stopped cheering for Nadeshiko, as the women’s national soccer team is known, until the end.
The crowd shouted “Nippon” when the team sank to a 4-0 deficit within the first 16 minutes of play, and chanted “Ogimi” as Yuki Ogimi scored the team’s first goal in the 27th minute.
They also welcomed Sawa by shouting “Homare” when the 36-year-old midfielder took to the field in the 32nd minute of the game.
Sawa began playing soccer when she was in the second grade, and Tomitaro Otaka, who coached her at a local soccer club, was on hand at the center.
“At that time, it was very rare that a girl plays soccer in clubs and I did not expect her to last long,” Otaka, 71, said. “But she never quit until she graduated from elementary school.
“By playing at such a high level and winning the World Cup (in 2011), Sawa helped pave the way for other female soccer players. A lot of female players followed her. That’s her legacy,” Otaka said.
“I taught her the techniques of ball trapping and body balance. She is good at those techniques and I could see them in today’s match,” he added.
Sawa made her World Cup debut in 1999 and led Japan to its first championship in 2011 by beating the U.S. She was named FIFA World Player of the Year that season.
She became the first player ever to appear in six World Cup tournaments when she played in a 1-0 first-round win over Switzerland on June 8.
Her mother, Maiko, also watched the final at the Fuchu Shinmachi Culture Center. She did not speak to the media much, but said to the audience after the game: “It was disappointing to lose the championship, but I appreciate your support.”
Otaka said he believes that Sawa “will continue to play soccer. She has much left in her tank. I would like to thank her for giving us this wonderful moment. I will keep supporting her for the rest of my life.”
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