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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nadeshiko eye Olympic redemption

Staff writer

Nadeshiko Japan manager Norio Sasaki is determined to wipe away the pain of missing out on a medal at the Beijing Olympics four years ago by capturing gold in London this summer.

News photo
Burning desire: Nadeshiko Japan manager Norio Sasaki names his squad for the London Olympics in Tokyo on Monday. KYODO

Japan's women's soccer team reached the semifinals for the first time in China but failed to make the podium after losing to the United States in the last four and Germany in the bronze-medal match.

But after winning the Women's World Cup last year Sasaki's squad heads to London among the favorites for the Olympic title, and the manager has set his sights on only one target.

"In Beijing we were aiming for the last four and we managed to achieve that, but out of those four teams we were the only ones who went home empty-handed," Sasaki said as he named his 18-strong squad for the July 25-Aug. 9 tournament on Monday. "The frustration of that memory is driving us on, and we want to use that to win in London."

Reigning Women's World Player of the Year Homare Sawa leads a squad entirely made up of World Cup winners, and Sasaki played down concerns over the 33-year-old's fitness after she missed games earlier this year because of vertigo.

"She has come back to the team and day by day her condition is improving," he said of Sawa, who will be playing in her fourth Olympics. "She will continue to get better during our training camp and I'm sure she'll give good performances."

Men's team manager Takashi Sekizuka also unveiled his squad to face Spain, Morocco and Honduras in the first round in Britain, with 19-year-old Arsenal starlet Ryo Miyaichi among the absentees.

"I had a list of 35 players with a lot of potential to choose from," said Sekizuka. "I've chosen players in good condition who have performed well in the past, and I talked a lot with the coaches before settling on my final choice."

Sekizuka named FC Tokyo right back Yuhei Tokunaga and full national team regular defender Maya Yoshida as his overage players with three permitted in each Under-23 squad, and the manager believes their experience will be valuable.

"In May after we played in the Toulon Tournament I felt that the back line needed reinforcing," Sekizuka said. "Yoshida also played at the last Olympics and I think he can help us."

Tokyo Verdy striker Kenyu Sugimoto was the surprise inclusion among the 18, but Sekizuka insists the 187-cm teenager can make his mark.

"He is very powerful in front of goal and he is good with his feet," he said of the 19-year-old. "I'm expecting a lot from him."

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