SOCCER/ Sawa back after long illness, takes aim at Olympics

April 28, 2012

By JUNYA YOSHIDA/ Staff Writer

INAC Kobe Leonessa midfielder Homare Sawa is expected to return as a starting member in a Nadeshiko League match against AS Elfen Sayama on April 29 after missing the first part of the season for health reasons.

Sawa's return will raise expectations of a full comeback of the 2011 World Cup MVP in time for this summer's London Olympics.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo had forced the former Nadeshiko Japan captain to take seven weeks off before rejoining her club on April 22.

On April 27, Sawa participated in a full training session with the Kobe Leonessa in Miki, Hyogo Prefecture.

“I’m doing just fine, as you can see," she told reporters after training with players in Kobe's starting lineup. "Will I be a starting member? If the manager wants me to.”

At the April 22 match against Fukuoka J. Anclas, Sawa came in as a substitute in the 72nd minute when Kobe was enjoying an insurmountable 5-0 lead. She passed the ball safely as a defensive midfielder. She was involved in some aerial battles with her head, but even Sawa admitted she was far from 100 percent.

“I couldn’t perform the way I wanted,” she later told reporters about her first official game after a long break.

Sawa first showed symptoms of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo on the night of March 4 while she was participating in the Algarve Women’s Football Cup in Portugal as a member of the national women’s soccer team. She was suddenly overcome with dizziness and was unable to stay on her feet. BPPV is an unprecedented illness for a top athlete. Sawa went to several hospitals and searched for the best treatment, including different combinations of medication.

“The specific causes haven’t been determined," said Kobe Leonessa trainer Mitsuhiro Yamada. "And we can’t rule out the possibility of a relapse. Initially, we’ve been trying to eliminate stress from Sawa’s life.”

Stress is one of the causes of BPPV. That’s why Sawa’s game schedule was selected cautiously. Initially, the team was preparing for her to make her comeback at an April 15 league opener. But the team decided it would be less stressful to put her back on the pitch in a situation where her performance would not greatly affect the team’s victory.

With the Olympics less than three months away, insiders are counting on Sawa to lead the reigning World Cup champions to an Olympic medal. Sawa said she is certainly ready.

“My biggest goal this year is the London Olympics.”

Nadeshiko Japan, meanwhile, has been producing great results without its former captain. The team came in second place at the Algarve Cup, and won the Kirin Challenge Cup in April over powerhouses the United States and Brazil.

This could be good news and bad news for Sawa.

“It’s been a good opportunity for younger players to show off their skills,” she said, showing some composure. But she also showed some insecurity by adding, “I want to leave good results during the Nadeshiko League matches so that I’ll be selected as one of the 18 (members of the national team for the Olympics.)”

To get her dream of an Olympic gold medal, Sawa will have to tap into her outstanding instinct for victory and use the experience she’s accumulated since she first joined the national team at the age of 15.

By JUNYA YOSHIDA/ Staff Writer
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INAC Kobe Leonessa midfielder Homare Sawa heads the ball in a training session on April 27. (The Asahi Shimbun)

INAC Kobe Leonessa midfielder Homare Sawa heads the ball in a training session on April 27. (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • INAC Kobe Leonessa midfielder Homare Sawa heads the ball in a training session on April 27. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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