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Homare Sawa scores, wins championship in final match

Homare Sawa scored a goal to lift her club team to an championship on Sunday in the final game of her nearly 25-year career.

Sawa scored in the 78th minute — heading in a corner kick from Nahomi Kawasumi — to lift INAC Kobe Leonessa to a 1-0 victory over Albirex Niigata Ladies to win the Empress Cup in front of 20,379, according to reports.

Sawa, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, played for Japan’s national team for 22 years, appearing in her sixth World Cup in 2015 to share the record for most appearances alongside Brazil’s Formiga. Sawa captained Japan to a miraculous 2011 World Cup title.

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Earlier this month, Sawa announced that she would be retiring. The 37-year-old midfielder said on Sunday that she still hasn’t fully adjusted to the idea of retiring, but she wants to see fans continue their support for women’s soccer in Japan, a movement which she spearheaded as one of the nation’s biggest sporting celebrities.

“I feel as if I’ll be running around on the pitch next year,” she said during the postmatch on-field interview, according to the Japan News.

She continued: “I will retire today, but I hope as many people will continue supporting the Japan women’s soccer world so it can continue its [path to] glory.”

Sawa’s impact on the sport can be seen through the respect she receives from teammates and opponents.

“In our meeting, I told our players to look for Sawa and have linkage with her,” INAC coach Takeo Matsuda told the Japan Times. “And we ended up winning with her goal. She’s such a great player and considering we won’t have her next year, I feel that we’ve lost a big presence.”

INAC captain Shinobu Ono said the entire team was playing for Sawa — to win her a championship and have her score a goal in her swansong.

“We shot for nothing but the championship for Sawa’s sake, that was the only thing we had on our minds,” Ono said.

Sawa won 11 Nadeshiko League titles with INAC and NTV Beleza. For Sawa, her final match played out like a dream, much like most of her career.

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