An ocean-going crowd had gathered in the landing area of ​​Tokyo’s Narita International Airport , waiting to see the Japanese national team get off the plane with the first historic World Cup in hand . Fans, relatives, but also journalists, about 300, for a welcome never seen before in Japan. Not even for the men’s national team, thought Homare Sawa , star and leader of the Japanese team who in July 2011 won the women’s World Cup in Germany .
And it was from the German lands, after an interminable journey, that the first international success of a team arrived in Japan, regardless of whether it was male or female.With 205 games and 83 goals, in December 2015, Homare Sawa announced her retirement from the Japanese national team: considered the strongest player in the history of the country, she played her first game at the age of 15 .
The women’s national league was officially born in 1989 and two years later a young Sawa, only 12, made her debut against an all-boys team because at the time it was impossible to put on 11 players to train and compete with. This is where his intelligent and calculating style of play was born, a model recognized and admired on a global level: “I didn’t like losing against boys, that’s why I always played with my head, with psychology,” he said years ago. ‘striker.

His World Cup debut was at the age of 16, in 1995 . Japan is one of the few countries to have participated in all possible editions and Sawa took part in six of these , skipping only the first in 1991 and the latter, now withdrawn. Six World Cups and a record surpassed in France by the immortal Formiga who, however, does not scratch the history written by the Japanese striker who, at the beginning of 2000, was also esteemed in the United States where I went to play on the initiative of the Federation of the Asian country to strengthen athletes and make them more competitive.
Thus, far from Japan, Sawa first played for the Denver Diamons (1999-2000), then for the Atlanta Beat (2001-2003) and, finally, for Washington Freedom (2009-2010). “She is the kind of player who is always in the right place at the right time,” said former American star Abby Wambach , her partner in Washington and her rival in the 2011 World Cup final .
Japan never started as a favorite, but that year Homare Sawa, with his captain’s armband on, seemed to drag the rest of the group. Her hat-trick in a 4-0 win against Mexico in the group stage was the first sign. In the quarter-finals, against the Teutonic hosts, Japan won 1-0 in extra time and Sawa, to celebrate the incredible feat, decided to personalize the nail polish with the flag of his nation and a stylized ball. He decided that that gesture would become his good luck charm and in some close-up photographs you can see the striker maintaining the same look even in the semifinals against Sweden and then against the USA.
It was July 17th and it was played at the Commerbank-Arena in Frankfurt. The final will be remembered as the craziest and most daring of all time , with Alex Morgan and teammates leading twice, restarted twice, despite two sensational posts and then the defeat on penalties, at the end of 2-2 in extra time.Homare Sawa, elected best player of the tournament and top scorer of the event, centered the 2-2 draw in the 117th minute with a perfect and precise heel strike on the fly, on the development of a corner kick .
It is evident that in that game, it was history that got in the way: four months before the World Cup, Japan was devastated by a terrible tsunami that caused an earthquake, the nuclear accident in Fukushima and more than 15 thousand dead with 4 thousand missing and thousands of homeless. The national team manager Sasaki, aware of the impact on his players, shows several images of the devastated country in the pre-match. The message was clear: the triumph would not only be for sport, but for a whole nation. “We will always be grateful for what our compatriots have given us: we were able to continue training and playing when an entire country was on its knees,” said captain Sawa.
Thus, those who cried for a tragedy continued to shed tears, yes, but of joy. Sawa was the manifesto of a crucial historical moment for Japan, but also of an intimate way of living life, the expression of an entire people. The feeling of a country, which has fallen several times, for which defeat has never been a possibility.

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