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:

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

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He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.