TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

March 7, 2016 — The sinking ship

So, last time we saw the Japan national women’s soccer team, they were being run off the park by the United States in the FIFA World Cup final in Vancouver.

The 5-2 defeat must have had an enormous effect on the psyche of the Japanese side, because the team, long seen as the second-best women’s national side in the world, has shockingly failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

Japan and five other sides have been playing in a hexagonal qualification tournament in Osaka, sponsored by the Asian Football Confederation. Only two teams qualify for the Olympics from the AFC. And unlike CONCACAF, the qualification spots are determined on tournament record, not through a knockout stage.

The Japanese team did not get off to the best start, losing 3-1 to Australia (remember: the Matildas moved from the Oceania Football Confederation in 2006), drawing South Korea 1-1, and losing 2-1 to China.

Today in AFC play, China beat South Korea 1-0 on Matchday 4. That means that there is no way that Japan — or any other team — could catch the Steel Roses or the Matildas for the Olympic slots. Australia leads the tournament with four victories for 12 points, while China has three wins and a draw for 10 points. Though Japan waxed Vietnam 6-1 today, the most points they can get is seven.

It’s a development which is about as shocking as the last Olympics, when Germany — a two-time World Cup winner — failed to qualify for London 2012.

Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising, given the fact that only 12 teams get into the Olympics; the qualification process is, by design, more difficult than getting into a World Cup. And the gameplay is more difficult; soccer begins days before the Opening Ceremony and often travels around the country in which the Olympics are played. A team looking to make the Olympic final in Rio may have to travel as far away as Manaus for group-stage matches.

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