Japan FIFA hat-trick boosts Olympic dream

Updated: 11 January 2012 16:54 IST

Japan's hat-trick of FIFA awards has boosted their bid for a historic women's World Cup-Olympic double and, according to their football chief, encouraged the disaster-hit nation and Asia as a whole.

Japan FIFA hat-trick boosts Olympic dream
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Tokyo:

Japan's hat-trick of FIFA awards has boosted their bid for a historic women's World Cup-Olympic double and, according to their football chief, encouraged the disaster-hit nation and Asia as a whole.

Homare Sawa, whose last-gasp equaliser helped Japan win the women's World Cup in July, said on Wednesday after returning home with the Women's Player of the Year she was dumbstruck by the honour.

"My mind went blank when my name was called. Now it is slowly sinking in. I want to work hard and live up to the fame of this award," the 33-year-old captain and midfielder told a news conference in Tokyo.

"This has marked a great start for the year and I will aim with all members of the team for the top of the London Olympics podium," added Sawa, who has played for Japan for 18 years and became the top scorer and most valuable player with five goals at the World Cup in Germany.

"I think I could give many children goals and dreams," she said. "I could prove that nothing is impossible for Japanese or whoever."

Japan also won two more awards at FIFA's Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich on Monday, out of eight awards on offer.

Norio Sasaki was named the Women's Coach of the Year and the Japan Football Association picked up the Fair Play Award, mainly for its contribution to helping the country recover from March's earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disasters.

Sasaki said he would be trying to make his team peak at the London Games by following the example of Barcelona's attacking game.

"With Sawa at the centre, I want to complete the team-building process we have been doing since 2008," said Sasaki, who was in charge of the team that narrowly missed a medal at the Beijing Olympics, where they lost to Germany in the third place play-off.

The awards for Sawa and Sasaki marked the first time Asia has been recognised in the individual categories at FIFA's awards.

Japan Football Association president Junji Ogura said many Asians at the ceremony had rejoiced in Japan's feats as "honours for Asia."

"I think this is proof that Asia has joined the ranks of South America and Europe," he said. "We want to display the trophies to people in the disaster areas and give them courage."

Sports dailies splashed giant photos of Sawa, dressed in a kimono, side by side with Barcelona star Lionel Messi, who won his third straight Ballon d'Or for the best male player.

"The world number-one 'homare' for Sawa," read a banner headline in the Tokyo Chunichi Sports daily - Sawa's first name, Homare, means glory in Japanese.."

Sasaki said he had a chance to talk with Pep Guardiola, the coach of newly crowned world champion club Barcelona, in Zurich, where the Spaniard was named the Men's Coach of the Year.

The 53-year-old Japanese said Guardiola spoke very highly of the Japanese women's side.

"He praised our team to the skies by saying 'you're better than us.' As our team are following Barcelona's example, we discussed many things."

No country has won the women's World Cup and the Olympic gold medal the following year.

The United States triumphed in the inaugural women's Olympic tournament in 1996 and went on to win the 1999 World Cup, but lost to Norway in the final at the 2000 Sydney Games.

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