Japan look set to replace coach Norio Sasaki after the former women’s world champions failed to qualify for the Rio Olympic football tournament.
Even a 6-1 thumping of Vietnam in Osaka on Monday was not enough to keep Japan’s qualification hopes alive after other results went against them and Sasaki now looks set to pay the ultimate price.
“We will look to begin a new regime as soon as possible,” Japan Football Association (JFA) president Kuniya Daini told local media on Tuesday.
“The (JFA) women’s committee needs to think about the steps we need to take and what kind of coach we need. “We must look to the next World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics,” he added. “We need to act quickly.”
Four-time Asian women’s coach of the year Asako Takakura appears to be the front-runner to take over, although she has yet to make any formal comment.
Asian title holders Japan famously beat the mighty United States to lift the 2011 World Cup under Sasaki and also took silver at the 2012 London Olympics, losing to the Americans in the final.
Sasaki also led Japan’s “Nadeshiko”—who are named after a frilly pink carnation said to be a symbol of femininity—to the final of last year’s World Cup, where they were once again beaten by the United States.
But the relationship between the 57-year-old coach and his players has cooled off over the past year following the retirement of superstar striker Homare Sawa.
‘Pathetic,’ says captain
Sasaki reportedly complained the players showed him a lack of respect by calling him “Norio” and there was little sign of the team’s renowned fighting spirit over the past week as Australia and China claimed the two qualifying spots.
Having taken just one point in their first three games, Japan’s fate was sealed Monday when China beat South Korea 1-0.
“I’m deeply sorry,” said captain Aya Miyama. “I’m full of regret and deeply apologise for how pathetic we are.”
Japan’s alarming slump in form had already sparked dismay before their elimination, with former world player of the year Sawa accusing the players of lacking heart.
It is all a far cry from 2011 when Japan stunned the United States to capture the World Cup, using images of the deadly tsunami in the northeast of the country earlier that year as motivation to fuel their astonishing title charge.
Sasaki’s side instantly became a symbol of Japan’s steely determination to recover from the disaster and resulting nuclear crisis and followed that success with another dream run at the 2012 Olympics and a second World Cup final appearance.
“The failure to qualify is my fault,” said Sasaki, whose final game looks likely to be Wednesday’s dead rubber against North Korea.
“I have one more game, which might be my last, but we will still give it everything.”
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