Lionel Messi may have claimed top billing, but this year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala was also dominated by Japanese football. In winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year crown, Japan midfielder and captain Homare Sawa brought to an end Marta’s five-year reign at the top of the women's game. FIFA.com spoke to the happy, elegantly dressed winner shortly after the ceremony.
FIFA.com: Your kimono certainly caught the eye tonight. Can you explain why you chose to wear it?
Homare Sawa: The kimono is part of Japanese culture. For us this dress signifies purity and also allows us to look graceful for special occasions like this one. It was a way of representing my country with pride, and it also forces me to walk nice and straight!
How did you feel the moment your name was read out?
It was a very exciting night. It was actually when I heard the name of my international coach being announced as Women’s Coach of the Year that my legs started to shake and I began to feel very excited and nervous. And then when I heard my own name, my mind just went blank. I almost couldn’t believe it.
To whom would you like to dedicate the prize?
This award is not just for me. I’m able to play at such a level because of all the great people I have around me: my coach, my team-mates and my family. So I’d like to dedicate it to all of them. The award will now be put on display at the Japanese Football Association, where lots of fans will be able to see it; that thought really thrills me.
It was a great night for your country because, in addition to the two individual prizes that were handed out, the FIFA Fair Play trophy was awarded to your national association, after what was a very tough year for Japan. If you had to choose a special moment in 2011, what would it be?
That’s difficult, but I think it has to be winning the Women’s World Cup in Germany. That success came just a few months after the terrible earthquake that hit Japan. Many people suffered enormously. And although all we did was win a football competition, so many people told us that our victory raised their spirits and gave them the courage to carry on. Helping my compatriots to feel that way made me very happy indeed.
You are due to play in the upcoming Olympic Games. Do you hope to repeat the personal and collective success that you experienced in Germany?
I’m not thinking about personal awards for the year to come. I’d rather win as a team, and in that sense I hope that we can secure the gold this summer – I’d be delighted with that. And if because of that another individual accolade comes my way, that would be fantastic, but my priority is to win with my team-mates alongside me.
Norio Sasaki: I feel so honoured(FIFA.com)
The award for the FIFA Women's Football Coach of the Year was presented for only the second time at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala on Monday as Norio Sasaki became Silvia Neid's proud successor.
The Japanese national team boss prevailed from a three-strong shortlist which also included USA coach Pia Sundhage and Bruno Bini of France.
Sasaki could hardly have wished for a better 2011. The 53-year-old steered Japan to a historic success at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ in Germany, encouraging attractive flowing football and eventually beating USA on penalties in the final to claim the Nadeshiko's first world crown
After the ceremony, Sasaki spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the highlights of his career to date and his pride at winning the award.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to be voted FIFA Women's Football Coach of the Year?
Norio Sasaki: I am so honoured. Just being here at such an amazing event together with my family makes me feel so grateful. I'm so emotional and I'm feeling very happy. Just being here is one thing but winning this award is simply overwhelming.
Having won the FIFA Women's World Cup in the summer, how does this individual award rate among your career highlights?
Of course winning the World Cup was a fantastic moment – both for us and Japan. This award is recognition from the world of football for our courage and effort. It's something I want to take back to Japan, where the people are so happy right now.
What did you think about Homare Sawa being voted the FIFA Women's World Player?
She is the best. She's been with us since I started coaching the Japanese women’s national team in 2008. I had full confidence in her ability and talent and it's been confirmed this year. She was appointed captain as soon as I started and there has been a tremendous amount of pressure on her, but she has fulfilled her responsibilities admirably. I'm full of admiration for her courage and her ability. She made me into the person I am today, something I'm very grateful for.
Finally, what are your goals for 2012?
Since 2008 it has been our goal to win the World Cup and then to win the Olympics the following year. No team has ever managed that, so that's our target. Together with all the girls we're going to achieve that this year.