Coach of Japan women’s soccer team admits telling players not to win against South Africa
Japan women’s soccer coach Norio Sasaki. (Getty)
Following Tuesday’s Olympic badminton scandal in which eight female doubles players were disqualified for trying to lose matches to rig a preferred place in the tournament, Japan women’s soccer coach Norio Sasaki has admitted that he told his players not to win their final group-stage match against last-place South Africa. But instead of trying to lose, Sasaki, who led Japan to its first Women’s World Cup title last year, merely wanted a draw, which Japan got when the match ended 0-0. This helped ensure that his side would finish second in Group F and remain in Cardiff for its quarterfinal match against Brazil instead of traveling 400 miles to Glasgow, where group winners Sweden will play its quarterfinal against France on Friday.
From the AP:
“It was a different way of playing compared to the usual game, but the players were on the same page as me,” he said.
He said [he] introduced one striker, Yuki Ogimi, late in the match, so “we could take one goal back” if South Africa, one of the weakest teams in the competition, was lucky enough to score.
“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.”
FIFA has already announced that Japan will not be punished for this strategy, stating that “there are no sufficient elements to start disciplinary proceedings” for “unlawfully influencing match results.” Strategically playing for a draw by taking up a more defensive approach (known as “parking the bus”) is a fairly common tactic, but one usually employed by weaker teams that can’t compete with their opponents’ more dangerous attack. It is also one with which all managers do not agree.
Asked if she would ever have her team do as Japan did, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage was clear in her response. From the AP:
“Absolutely not. Never ever crossed my mind,” coach Pia Sundhage said. “Because I think: Respect the game, respect this wonderful tournament and respect the team. … We want to win. If we have that approach to every game, I think we’re in the best mindset.”
If Sasaki’s strategizing pays off or backfires now that Japan must resume actually trying to win will determine whether that criticism quiets down or intensifies. Either way, a knockout match against Brazil is rarely something teams try to arrange.