Homare Sawa calls time on an epic international career

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Bidding adieu to a living legend of the women’s game.

At the age of 15, Homare Sawa scored four goals in her debut appearance for Japan. The crafty central midfielder would continue to make good on that early promise for nearly two decades.

Sawa today announced her retirement from the international game. She won’t merely be remembered for her footballing accomplishments, and it’s a mightily impressive CV: World Cup triumph; Golden Ball; Golden Boot; 2011 FIFA Player of the Year award; Olympic silver medal.

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Sulking over silver? Not a chance. Japan wins their first ever Olympic medal in women’s soccer and Homare Sawa can’t help but beam with pride. She embodied class and grace.

The 33-year-old made an indelible impact on the women’s game. Her inspired play helped elevate the standard of women’s soccer both in terms of quality and global prestige.

U.S. fans were first introduced to the Japanese no. 10 during her three-year stint with Atlanta Beat in the Women’s United Soccer Association. The sleek and composed no. 10 would return to the U.S. in 2009 as a member of the Washington Freedom in Women’s Professional Soccer. She would remain a fan favorite.

Sawa cemented her legacy with her exploits in Germany last summer. Her crowning moment arrived in her final turn on the world’s grandest stage. Even at 32, her game showed no signs of decline or regression. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

It’s impossible to imagine Japan’s stunning Word Cup run without her immense influence. Sawa performed dual roles for her side, and did so brilliantly. She was both the conductor and the principal performer. She was the brains in Japan’s inventive midfield and provided the firepower with five goals. It was her late header in the final against the U.S. that forced overtime and put the World Cup within Japan’s grasp.

That inspirational performance made her an icon back home. The Nadeshiko lifted the spirits of a nation stricken by natural disaster. Sawa became the face of Japan’s new national heroes – quite literally.

A firsthand account from an American based in Japan:

 

Heck, I live in a very rural backwater (think the Japanese equivalent of North Dakota), and the annual festival’s float was hastily redesigned to be a 10-foot-tall representation of a dragon wearing Sawa’s uniform.

In Kobe, Sawa’s face was everywhere, and banners congratulating her and the team lined the main streets. Posters with Sawa talking about the importance of everything from a balanced diet to studying hard now grace all the elementary schools at which I teach.

 

Sawa took time in Friday’s press conference to wish Japan’s youth team luck in the upcoming U-20 World Cup. The Nadeshiko’s next generation will aim to keep Japan amongst the world’s elite. That position is one Sawa helped secure.

 

Time to reminisce. Sawa joins her teammates as they relive that momentous equalizer against the United States:

FA Cup: Man Utd drawn vs. Brighton in QF; Chelsea to face Leicester

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Three more Premier League sides joined Chelsea and Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Saturday, followed by the draw for the final eight…

[ WATCH: Lionel Messi finds Luis Suarez with a brilliant through ball ]

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku‘s first season at Man United has been, on the whole, quietly fruitful (12 PL goals, plus another 8 in other competitions), though his $96-million price tag continues to loom large. On Saturday, the big Belgian fired the Red Devils into the final eight with a brace against fellow Premier Leaguers Huddersfield.

It was 1-0 after just three minutes, when Lukaku slotted home to finish a quick counter attack set forth by a brilliant through ball from Juan Mata.

Mata made it 2-0 just before halftime, but the goal was wiped away after utilizing the video-assistant refereeing system. They don’t get much closer than this one.

United’s second came 10 minutes into the second half, when Alexis Sanchez took his turn playing Lukaku into acres of wide open space.

When the draw was made following the conclusion of Saturday’s game, we learned that United will host another PL side, Brighton & Hove Albion, in the next round.

Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 Coventry City

That’s because Brighton brushed aside League 2 side Coventry City to reach their first quarterfinal since 1986.

Jurgen Locadia, Connor Goldson and Leonardo Ulloa bagged the goals for the ‘Gulls.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Southampton

Southampton are also through to the quarterfinals, thanks to their 2-1 victory away to West Brom. Salomon Rondon’s stunning volley undoubtedly stole the headlines (WATCH HERE), but Saints are the ones to advance, thanks to goals scored by Wesley Hoedt (11th minute) and Dusan Tadic (56th).

In the next round, Southampton will be away to the winner of Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City (Monday, 2:55 p.m. ET).

Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Swansea City

The last thing relegation battlers Swansea City would have wanted is for a replay to be shoehorned into their remaining schedule, but Carlos Carvalhal’s side was unable to best Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, thus a replay at the Liberty Stadium on a yet-to-be-determined date over the next month.

Full quarterfinal draw

Sheffield Wednesday/Swansea City vs. Rochdale/Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
Wigan Athletic/Manchester City vs. Southampton

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Rochdale vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City — 2:55 p.m. ET

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern wins it late, Leverkusen goes second

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It looked like Bayern Munich was on pace to drop points for just the fifth time this season, but then the club’s star striker stepped up in the biggest of moments.

[ MORE: TFC on the brink of adding Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ager Aketxe ]

The German leaders came back to pick up a 2-1 victory on the road at Wolfsburg after Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty kick in stoppage time.

Sandro Wagner’s second-half header had pulled the match level off of an Arjen Robben cross in the 64th minute. Robben atoned for an earlier penalty-kick miss, which would have tied the match ten minutes prior.

Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke were each big winners on the day, with the two clubs moving into the top four.

Leverkusen’s 2-1 win on the road against Hertha Berlin saw Heiko Herrlich and his side move up to second place in the Bundesliga, albeit a lengthy distance behind leaders Bayern.

Schalke took care of business at home against Hoffenheim, bringing the Miners one step closer to the top four. The side is now level on 37 points with Borussia Dortmund for fourth, but the Christian Pulisic and Co. currently boast a superior goal differential.

Below are all of Saturday’s scores from around Germany’s top flight.

Cologne 1-1 Hannover 96
Hertha Berlin 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg 1-0 Werder Bremen
Wolfsburg 1-1 Bayern Munich
Schalke 2-1 Hoffenheim

Rodchenkov to AP: Russian footballers immune from drug bans

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Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov claims he helped soccer players in the country to avoid being caught doping after he followed government orders to ensure cheating was covered up.

[ MORE: Mourinho denies Pogba exit rumors ]

The former Russian anti-doping laboratory director told The Associated Press in response to questions through his lawyer that an instruction to avoid scandal came from Vitaly Mutko. Mutko is the former Russian sports minister who serves as deputy prime minster despite being at the center of the doping deception controversy exposed by Rodchenkov.

The focus is sharpening on doping practices in Russian soccer with the World Cup kicking off in Moscow in four months.

Rodchenkov says “Russian footballers were immune from doping-control actions or sanctions.”

Rodchenkov claimed Mutko said “avoid any scandal by hiding positive results” and that “doping would be handled internally”.

Video: Rondon’s exquisite volley not enough to save West Brom

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Salomon Rondon’s second-half volley was not only a beauty, but one of tremendous difficulty.

Unfortunately for he and his West Bromwich Albion side, though, it wasn’t enough for the Baggies to survive in this season’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Southampton.

[ MORE: Brilliant Messi through ball sends Suarez in for Barcelona opener ]

The Saints progressed to the quarterfinals on Saturday behind goals from Wesley Hoedt and Dusan Tadic, and join fellow Premier League sides Chelsea, Brighton & Hove and Leicester City in the final eight.

Tadic’s goal came in the 56th minute, doubling the Southampton lead, but Rondon’s quality volley two minutes later provided West Brom with a temporary moment of relief (below).