Olympics: Japan women’s team takes it easy against South Africa, avoids travel for quarterfinal game
By Charles Boehm
Sometimes winning means not winning. At least, that’s how the Japanese women’s national team saw it in their final group stage game of the Olympic women’s soccer tournament.
Japan deliberately avoided scoring against South Africa on Tuesday, leading to a 0-0 draw that ensured that the team will play its quarterfinal match in their present location of Cardiff, Wales instead of Glasgow, Scotland.
“It was a different way of playing compared to the usual game, but the players were on the same page as me,” head coach Norio Sasaki told media afterwards. “I feel sorry we couldn’t show a respectable game, but it’s my responsibility, not the players, why the game was like that. It was important for us not to move to Glasgow.”
Having already secured a place in the knockout stages, Japan were keen to avoid a trip across Great Britain for their quarterfinal and they made little secret of that fact by taking their foot off the gas pedal against a South African side which had been outscored 7-1 in their first two matches, against Sweden and Canada.
Some commentators also suggested that the defending Women’s World Cup champions wanted to avoid playing France, who had defeated them in a warm-up match earlier this year. Japan will face Brazil instead, a team which has been well short of its best but whose creativity and athleticism nonetheless presents substantial challenges.
FIFA officials said there would be no investigation or punishment of the situation, because the two teams did not conspire to create a certain result.
Editor’s note: What do you think? Did Japan disgrace the Olympics’ competitive spirit, or merely do what was necessary to give themselves the best chance to win the tournament as a while? If you were a coach in Sasaki’s place, would you direct your players to do the same thing?