"Miracles don't just happen naturally. Why do miracles occur? We need to research the process. Miracles don't happen every day. Miracles can't be bought with money. They only occur with conscientious preparation."
So pronounced Ivica Osim, former head coach of the Japanese men's national soccer team.
We remember ruminating on these words in 2011 when Nadeshiko Japan, the women's national team, won the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. The players lit a spark in the hearts of Japanese who were reeling from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami earlier that year, like a miracle. And Homare Sawa was there in the center.
It was in a book published three years before Japan took the World Cup that Sawa gave her maxim, "A dream isn't something to be seen but to be fulfilled." Sawa, who was approaching 30 at the time, stated clearly that her dream was victory in a world tournament.
During her childhood, Sawa would get angry at mean opponents who scoffed at her for playing soccer "despite being a girl," and would chase them about. When she joined the Japanese national team, Japan allowed a powerful opponent a double-digit score in one defeat. At a time when women's teams were disappearing one after another, Sawa went by herself to play in a U.S. league at the top of the world.
Perhaps we could say all these things were "conscientious preparation for a miracle."
In the final of the 2011 World Cup, it was a dramatic goal by Sawa with just three minutes remaining that evened the scores and opened the door for her team to stand at the world's highest level. That goal was engraved in people's minds as a memorial of the age.
And now Sawa has announced her retirement as a player.
"It was the best soccer career, in which I did everything I could," she said. To her we want to reply, "Thank you very much for all the wonderful Japanese women's soccer."
The players coming after her are obviously preparing for the next miracle. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)