OSAKA -- Japan's women's soccer team captain Aya Miyama remained apologetic on March 7 after her team failed to qualify for this year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"I'm sorry to all those who supported us, and to those aiming to represent Japan, who lost their chance to experience the Olympics," the 31-year-old midfielder said.
Japan faced Vietnam on March 7, but even before the starting whistle blew, Japan was out of contention for a berth in Rio. Miyama, who had been benched, called out to her teammates, "Let's go all out and play our style of soccer today."
Japan emerged victorious, beating Vietnam 6-1, but Miyama kept her head down. "I feel so frustrated, pathetic, apologetic," she said.
After drawing with South Korea on March 2, Miyama made a reference to retired star Homare Sawa -- with a rare display of weakness.
"I learned from Ms. Sawa, 'God is always watching.' Maybe I haven't given the team enough," she said. Miyama had always followed Sawa, who hung up her boots last season after many years as a key player. From this season, however, Sawa was not there by her side.
"Nobody can fill her shoes," Miyama said, underscoring the impact Sawa had on the team.
It was in 2003 that Miyama joined the national women's team, or Nadeshiko Japan, as it is familiarly known. The team had missed out on representing Japan at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and public interest in women's soccer was waning. Miyama keenly felt the weight that an Olympic berth carried. On March 7, Miyama said she could not currently comment on her future as a national team player. She represented Japan at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, after missing out in 2004. But her team's latest performance saw her chance to participate in a third Olympic Games quietly slip away.