For avid fans of women’s football, Homare Sawa needs no introduction. The Japanese attacking midfielder has been an absolute icon of the female half of the beautiful game for years, immortalising herself by winning both player of the tournament and top goalscorer as the Nadeshiko triumphed at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™. She crowned this achievement a few months later by being named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.
Four years on, the now 36-year-old is back with the Japan squad as they attempt to defend their title in Canada. It is the sixth time Sawa has taken part in a World Cup – a record for both the men’s and women’s game, albeit one she shares with Brazil’s Formiga.
As the Round of 16 duel against debutants the Netherlands approaches, the Japanese legend sat down with FIFA.com to discuss her new role in the team, the tournament so far and her future.
FIFA.com: How would you assess Japan’s performances so far at this Women’s World Cup?
Homare Sawa: Other teams are now looking at us differently after we won the title in 2011. We’re strong, but winning a World Cup is difficult. We’ve won all three of our matches so far; Brazil are the only other team to have managed that, so that’s a great confidence boost. Performance levels at this World Cup have risen sharply compared to four years ago, not just within our camp but in general.
Are you satisfied with your own performances?
Compared to the last World Cup, I still haven’t given my best performances or scored a goal. But I’m giving my all to contribute something to the team’s success. We cannot afford to lose a game from now on. I hope I’ll be able to find the target when it’s needed most, but I also like to defend and play a full part in what’s happening on the pitch. Although I’m a little older now, I’ll still do everything to be successful. I’ve achieved almost everything a footballer can achieve and now I’m focused on securing a second World Cup title.
Are Japan better than they were in Germany in 2011?
I don’t think you can compare the two teams. In 2011 we had the best team at that point in time; this year we have the strongest side there is right now.
This will be my last World Cup [but] if I still have the opportunity then I’d love to play at the Olympics
What do you know about your Round of 16 opponents?
I watched the Netherlands’ group matches against New Zealand and Canada on television. The quality of their individual players is very high and they have typical European characteristics: they’re physically strong, good at dribbling and very quick as a team. They’ve also got very tall players, so we’ve got to be aware of that.
Four years ago you were the big star, the captain, player of the tournament and leading goalscorer. What’s your role here in Canada?
Not like being the top scorer or player of the tournament, but I want to do the best I can to contribute to the team. Now Aya is our captain. From my experience, I know that it's not easy to lead the team. I want to do everything to support her. Sometimes I just listen to her, sometimes she might need some advice. When we have 23 players, there are many ideas, which is good. In those cases, the captain organises the ideas to work as a team. No matter how old I am, I always want to show my attitude on the pitch and I think that is important for me.
Was it difficult to take a step back and let Aya Miyama take the lead?
No, not at all. Aya now holds the responsibility of making the team better. Seamless transitions are part and parcel of Japanese football, and I think that’s a great thing.
Will Canada 2015 be your last Women’s World Cup?
Yes, this will be my last World Cup, but I’ll still keep playing football as long as my mind and body allow it. Of course, if I still have the opportunity then I’d love to play at the Olympic women’s football tournament next year.
What are your plans when your playing career ends?
I definitely don’t want to become a coach; it just doesn’t interest me. Apart from that I still don’t know exactly what awaits me after I hang up my boots, but I definitely want to remain in football in some capacity. I’d love to be involved with the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Finally, do you have a philosophy for life?
Don’t just dream your dreams – make them come true.