Japan coach Norio Sasaki says his players must adapt to life without talismanic midfielder Homare Sawa as he named his squad for the team’s first training camp since the former Women’s World Player of the Year retired last month.
Sasaki named a squad of 26 players for the Jan. 18-26 camp in Okinawa ahead of the final round of Asian qualifiers for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Sawa played a pivotal role in helping Japan stun the world by winning the Women’s World Cup for the first time in 2011 in Germany, where she was top scorer and also voted player of the tournament.
The 37-year-old also helped Sasaki’s team win the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics and at last year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada.
“She made the decision to retire and all we can do is try and make the transition,” Sasaki said of Sawa, who retired from the game with 205 national team appearances and 83 goals after making her Japan debut while still in junior high school.
Captain Aya Miyama and Frankfurt striker Yuki Ogimi were named to the squad for the camp while veteran Kozue Ando of Essen, who broke her left ankle in Japan’s first game at the World Cup in Canada, returns to the fold.
Nineteen-year-old Urawa Reds Ladies defender Ruka Norimatsu featured among the younger players called up to the squad.
Japan kicks off its Rio qualifying campaign against Australia on Feb. 29 before playing South Korea, China, Vietnam and North Korea, with each of the matches being played in Osaka.
“I will trim the squad to 20 at (another) camp just before the qualifiers,” said Sasaki. “I want to work hard on the things including what I felt needed fixing at the (2015) World Cup.
“We have to improve defensively and on our combinations launching attacks,” he said.