Japan, the runner-up to the U.S. women’s soccer team at the previous Olympics and Women’s World Cup, failed to qualify for the Rio Games.
The Japanese were eliminated from the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament with one draw and two defeats in their first three matches, after China beat South Korea 1-0 on Monday.
“I know this sounds harsh but watching from the outside, I really wonder how many of the players are out on the pitch dying to win, giving it their all for the team,” said former national team captain and 2011 FIFA Player of the Year Homare Sawa before Japan’s last match Friday, according to Kyodo News. “I don’t sense enough desire, to be truthful.”
The U.S. and Japan met in the finals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, 2012 Olympics and 2015 Women’s World Cup, with Japan winning the first meeting and losing the latter two.
With Japan out of Rio, the U.S.’ path to a fourth straight Olympic title is clearer. The biggest threats include host Brazil, France, Germany and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Canada.
Japan is not the first high-profile women’s soccer team to fail to make an Olympics.
Norway, which handed the U.S. its only two Olympic defeats (2008 group stage, 2000 final), didn’t make it back for Athens 2004 after taking gold at Sydney 2000.
Germany, the 2007 Women’s World Cup champion, failed to qualify for London 2012.