(Reuters) - Japan women’s soccer coach Norio Sasaki hit back after being criticized for ordering the world champions not to win their final first-round game at the London Olympics.
A defiant Sasaki denied any rule-bending on his part in Tuesday’s 0-0 draw against South Africa.
”We never set out with the intention for playing for a draw,“ he told reporters after his team beat Brazil 2-0 in Cardiff on Friday to reach the semi-finals. ”We never tried to play for a draw from the start.
“From the start we were playing for three points. I made a decision based on the way the game was going and with time running out.”
Sasaki’s instructions to his players not to press for a winner against South Africa meant Japan went through in second place behind Sweden in Group F.
It also ensured they stayed in Cardiff for Friday’s quarter-final and did not have to travel to Glasgow, triggering criticism from rival coaches.
“None of the players complained,” said Sasaki, whose team will face France in the last four at Wembley on Monday. “We wanted to stay (in Cardiff).”
Soccer’s governing body FIFA found there were insufficient grounds to launch disciplinary action against Sasaki based on his post-match comments.
However, the controversy came after eight players from South Korea, China and Indonesia were kicked out of the women’s badminton competition for trying to lose group matches to secure easier draws in the knockout stages.
Despite protesting his innocence, the Japan coach appeared to contradict himself.
“People might ask whether I should be making a decision like that,” he said. “Maybe that is something I should think about.”
Japan’s women stunned the United States on penalties to capture the World Cup last year, giving the country a welcome boost after the deadly tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis.
Reporting by Alastair Himmer in Tokyo; Editing by Clare Fallon