OSAKA – Nadeshiko Japan failed to qualify for their fourth successive Olympic Games on Monday night, missing out on one of Asia’s two places at Rio de Janeiro this summer after China defeated South Korea 1-0.
After winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup, capturing a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and returning to the final at last year’s World Cup, Japan’s impressive run on the world stage came to a screeching halt even before their 6-1 victory over Vietnam kicked off.
Japan improved to four points with its first win of the competition. But the flood of goals arrived too late as Nadeshiko cannot level or surpass China on 10 points, or leaders Australia on 12 points, with just one game left to play against North Korea on Wednesday.
Only the top two from the six-team group advance to Rio. China and Australia qualified after the Matildas beat North Korea 2-1.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki said losing to Australia in their opening match last week set the tone for what has turned out to be a disastrous campaign.
“Our hopes to play in Rio were dashed today,” Sasaki said. “In hindsight, I think losing the first game was everything. We just couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm after that.”
“We couldn’t regroup for the China game after not being able to win the first two matches.”
With Japan’s elimination, the talk post-match centered on the future of Sasaki, who has been in charge since December 2007.
Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini said no decision will be made until the women’s committee conducts a full review of the tournament, although the outgoing chief said the process should be held sooner rather than later. Four-time Asian women’s coach of the year Asako Takakura is said to be on the shortlist as a successor when that is deemed necessary.
“This team finished runnerup at the World Cup not that long ago, and his contribution to the women’s game is immense,” Daini said of Sasaki.
“The women’s committee will decide who is fit to coach the team. We have the next World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics to prepare for. It’s better to act sooner rather than later.”
Sasaki benched his core group of players, including captain Aya Miyama, forward Yuki Ogimi and defenders Saki Kumagai and Yukari Kinga against last-place Vietnam, which had lost its first three matches.
Japan was never in danger of giving the game away, and opened the scoring in the 39th minute through Mana Iwabuchi. Vietnam scored its first goal from the spot three minutes later, but Shinobu Ono reestablished the hosts’ lead in the 45th minute.
Nadeshiko made it 3-1 on 80 minutes and added three more before the final whistle thanks to Emi Nakajima, Kumi Yokoyama and Azusa Iwashimizu, though the lopsided win served as no consolation to the team’s elimination.
Sasaki said the North Korea game will serve as the first step in Japan’s rebuilding process.
“We have the next big competitions to get ready for so we will give it everything we’ve got for the next game,” he said. “Going to Rio is not an absolute in preparing for the next World Cup which is three years away, the Tokyo Olympics four.”
“I’m sure this team will find a way to keep attracting fans with their performance in time for those tournaments.”
Earlier, South Korea, which stood on two points and needed a win to keep its qualification hopes alive, had an excellent chance to go ahead on the quarter-hour but failed to capitalize in the match that determined Japan’s fate.
Jung Sul Bin forced a reflex save from the tournament’s best goalkeeper, Zhao Lina, with the loose ball spilling right into the path of Lee Min A. But Lee overran the ball, sparing Zhao’s blushes.
China got on the scoreboard two minutes to halftime, when Wang Shanshan rose over the defense to head past South Korea custodian Kim Jung Mi from Yoo Young A’s cross.
South Korea dominated the second half in a frantic search for the equalizer, but a resolute China team held on for all three points.