Thursday, August 2, 2012

Japan coach admits telling players not to win against South Africa

Japanese coach Norio Sasaki

NEWCASTLE, England – Japanese coach Norio Sasaki instructed his players not to score, just tie the game for a draw. FIFA said Wednesday that the team will not be given any discipline.

The game happened Tuesday in Cardiff, Wales, as the Japanese women faced an overmatched South African team. If Japan were to beat South Africa, they would have won their group and tripped to Glasgow for the quarterfinal. If they were to tie, they would stay in Cardiff for the Friday quarterfinal.

"It was a different way of playing compared to the usual game, but the players were on the same page as me," Sasaki said Tuesday. "I feel sorry we couldn't show a respectable game, but it's my responsibility, not the players, why the game was like that. It was important for us not to move to Glasgow."

That decision produced a 0-0 tie, and relieved the Japanese of the stress of travel, and essentially gives them home field advantage in the first game of the knockout stage, vs. Brazil.

Sundhage, the former Swedish pro and fourth-year American coach, knows the merits of consecutive games without travel. So would she tell a team to hold back in that situation?

"Absolutely not. Never ever crossed my mind," she said at the team's hotel here Wednesday, near where the Americans will play their quarterfinal vs. New Zealand. "I think, you respect the game, respect this wonderful tournament and respect the team.

"We want to win. You gain confidence by winning. As a player I would be pissed if my coach said that I shouldn't score. It doesn't exist in my world."

Japan's admission comes as eight female badminton players were disqualified from the Games for trying to lose matches to receive a favorable draw. The Badminton World Federation found the players guilty of "not using one's best efforts to win a match," a description which sums up Japan's efforts on Tuesday.

Yet FIFA said on Wednesday that Sasaki won't be disciplined for telling his players to avoid winning. It's disciplinary committee determined "there are no sufficient elements to start disciplinary proceedings" for corruption.

The Japanese defeated the Americans in the 2011 World Cup Final in Germany, and many U.S. players have cited that loss as motivation in these Games. Two players available for comment Wednesday say they've never received instructions not to score, and wouldn't know how to respond.

"Our mentality is to go into every game with the mentality to win," says Amy Rodriguez.

Teammate Kelley O'Hara said she could understand the reason for tying, but doesn't know how she would respond. In a 1-0 win vs. North Korea Tuesday in Manchester, the Americans were instructed to rest their legs with a 1-0 lead in the second half.

"The coach is the coach," she says. "They give you instruction. It would be a very weird situation to be in. Hopefully it will never happen."

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