Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa, who has been a key part of the national squad for two decades and was named FIFA women’s player of the year in 2011, is to retire, her agent said Wednesday. The 37-year-old scored 83 goals in 205 appearances for Japan in an career that extended over six World Cups including Japan’s 2011 victory. She also competed in four Olympic Games and won a silver medal in London in 2012.
Her agent gave no details but said Sawa would address the media on Thursday.
Sawa has long been one of Japan’s most admired athletes on and off the pitch. She was the skipper in Japan’s successful campaign to secure the World Cup trophy in Germany in July 2011, when she became the top scorer with five goals and the most valuable player of the tournament in victory over the United States. The spectacular victory through a penalty shootout triggered an explosion in the popularity of women’s soccer in Japan, which was hungry for good news after the Fukushima nuclear crisis four months earlier.
Sawa was called up to Japan’s international squad at age 15 and quickly became a core player in what was then a minority sport as men’s soccer steadily gained widespread popularity. But the success of the Japanese women’s national squad stunned the world and delighted their disaster-hit country.
Sawa also joined Japan’s campaign to defend the World Cup crown in Vancouver earlier this year, but the Americans claimed a 5-2 victory.
“I’d decided this would be my last World Cup and I’ve got no regrets,” she said after Japan’s defeat.
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