Japan legend Sawa makes cut for sixth World Cup

TOKYO (Reuters) - Homare Sawa, Japan’s all-time leading scorer and most capped international, will play in a record sixth women’s World Cup after battling back from a year-long absence to make the squad for Canada.

Japan's INAC Kobe Leonessa's Homare Sawa falls during the International Women's Club soccer championship final match against France's Olympique Lyonnais Feminin in Saitama, north of Tokyo November 25, 2012. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

The 36-year-old, who was named player of the tournament and was also the leading scorer at the finals as Japan beat United States on penalties four years ago, was named in the 23-women squad for the June 6-July 5 title defence.

“I was really nervous. It felt so nice when everyone hugged me. I almost cried, to be perfectly honest,” she was quoted as saying by Kyodo News on Friday.

“I wanted to put on that blue shirt again, I wanted to fight...again. I want to be involved in as many goals as possible. I’ve got the most experience on the team so I hope I can help the team settle.”

Sawa, who had stints playing club football in America before returning to Japan with Kobe Leonessa, briefly retired in 2012 but made a return to game with an eye on competing in Canada.

She helped Japan to win the Asian Cup last year but the midfielder was left out of the squad for the Algarve Cup in March following a number of injuries and a lack of form only for head coach Norio Sasaki to recall her.

“I’m counting on her to be a pillar of the team, on and off the pitch,” Sasaki said.

“Her qualities are necessary for the Nadeshiko right now. Let me stress that experience is not all she brings. I’m selecting her on her present form and fitness.”

Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Lothar Matthaues of Germany have each played in five World Cups, with Sawa one of four women to achieve the same. Brazilian Formiga could join Sawa in making her sixth appearance in Canada if she makes the South American’s squad.

Sawa, who was named FIFA Player of the Year award in 2011, made her debut for the national team aged just 15, scoring four goals in a thumping victory over the Philippines.

She has gone on to make 197 appearances for the team known as “Nadeshiko”, named after a pink carnation, scoring 82 goals and also playing at four Olympics.

Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty