THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Team are entering transition period

icon sawa210 August ~ Discovering that Japan had lost 2-1 to the USA in the Olympic women's football final was cruel way to start the morning for those that could not stay awake for the 3.45am kick-off. A second-half goal by Yuki Ogimi was not enough for Nadeshiko, as they are known, to overcome fantastic performances by players such as Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and woman of the match Carli Lloyd. But for all that happened on the field, including a 2-0 win over Brazil, this year's Nadeshiko campaign will be remembered more for events off the pitch.

The "Seatgate" scandal over the Japan Football Association's flight arrangements for the country's two Olympic squads – the women were in economy, the men in business class –  caused a furore.

Then there was coach Norio Sasaki's admission that he ordered his players to hold back in their scoreless draw against South Africa, so as to avoid an eight-hour trip to Glasgow.

Though a claim could be made that he successfully shielded his players from criticism, he also drew the ire of US coach Pia Sundhage who said "As a player I would be pissed off if my coach said that I shouldn't score. It doesn't exist in my world."

In the end, Nadeshiko will leave London with silver – their first medal finish at the Olympics – and a number of questions to be answered. Sasaki's expected resignation, combined with the advancing age of veteran captain Homare Sawa, will open the door to a period of transition for the team as they look to defend their World Cup at Canada 2015.

That change will begin later this month, when the recently-renamed Young Nadeshiko participate in the Japan-hosted FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup, as the reigning world champions start integrating their current and future stars.

One name emerging as a potential candidate to replace Sasaki is Midori Honda. The former Nadeshiko captain is the only woman in the country to have earned the coveted S-Class coaching licence.

The appointment of a female coach to one of Japan's most popular and internationally-recognised sports teams would be unprecedented. It would serve a fitting conclusion to the legacy of a team that has done more to increase the popularity of women's football in Japan than any before them.

With three years of championships and top-three finishes and the respect of the global football community, Japan's women can return home with their heads held high. Dan Orlowitz @aishiterutokyo

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