• Kyodo


Nadeshiko Japan coach Norio Sasaki said on Wednesday that he is stepping down after the team failed to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Following a 1-0 victory over North Korea that wrapped up the women’s Asian Olympic qualifiers, Sasaki, who guided Japan to the 2011 Women’s World Cup title and an Olympic silver medal at the 2012 London Games, did not say whether he has resigned or been dismissed, but made it clear he is out after eight years in charge.

“I’m taking all offers,” Sasaki said. “I’ll be looking for a new job in a few days so I’ll consider a wide range of options in moving on to the next stage.

“I take my job as national coach very seriously and if the results aren’t there, you have to take the responsibility.

“Had we qualified, I was hoping to work a little Norio magic to win us a gold medal in Rio, but I couldn’t work the magic even in qualifying.

“But what I can say is that each and every player has to be more accurate. Otherwise, given how competitive it’s getting on the world stage, we won’t stand a chance.”

Under-20 national coach and four-time women’s Asian manager of the year Asako Takakura is said to be the frontrunner to succeed Sasaki, who won 80 of the 125 games he managed Japan.

Contrary to reports earlier this week, however, it appears captain Aya Miyama will keep playing for her country.

“Playing for the national team isn’t your decision to make,” Miyama said. “As long as you still have your career, it’s something that one keeps shooting for.”

After Mana Iwabuchi came off the bench to head in an 80th-minute winner, Sasaki’s side finished third in the group on seven points from five games behind winner Australia (13) and China (11), the two qualifiers from Asia for Rio. Australia and China fought to a 1-1 draw.

Japan failed to qualify for what would have been its fourth successive Olympics on Monday after China defeated South Korea 1-0. South Korea earned its first win of the competition after beating last-place Vietnam 4-0, finishing ahead of North Korea on goal difference for fourth place.

“These last two games turned out to be sort of meaningless, but our players learned from the first three games and played well tonight,” said Sasaki, who, as fate would have it, faced North Korea in his first match as Japan manager in February 2008. Japan won that game 3-2.

“It’s my responsibility for not being able to get us to play the way we did from the very first game, and I don’t think my stepping down will excuse us from what we failed to achieve here. But I’m certain we will find a way to regroup for the future.

“Wherever I’ll be, I know I’ll be really concerned about how the team is doing. I’ll always be interested in the future of women’s football so I’ll be rooting for them.”

Sasaki, though, took one final jab at a section of the media for trying to create a rift within the team since Japan suffered its second defeat here to China on Friday.

“It’s a little disappointing to see some of the stuff I read. I don’t mind people criticizing me, but it seems like when we lose, it’s all gossip about who said this or that inside the team,” Sasaki said.

“Sorry but when I think about what the players have to endure, this is something I have to say.”

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