Former Japan captain and 2011 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Homare Sawa, has announced her retirement from football.

Debuting for Nadeshiko at 22, Sawa's career spanned 22 years including a record appearances at 6 FIFA Women's World Cups, 9 Asian Cups and 4 Olympic Games.


During her time on the national team, Sawa saw Japan navigate the dark years of the program in the early 2000s to lead the team to 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.

“She led women’s soccer in Japan for many years, a great player who played in many World Cups and Olympics with the national side,” said Japan head coach Norio Sasaki.

“She scored at crunch moments and led us to victories in many matches. She’s one of the special players I’ve met in my career,” he added. “It’s unfortunate she’s retiring, but I hope she continues to shine in the next stage of her life.”

Sawa retires from Nadeshiko with a record 205 caps and 83 goals and along the way the technically gifted midfielder collected several honours including the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the 2011 Women's World Cup, an Olympic Games silver medal (2012), 2 AFC Women's Player of the Year Awards and an Asian Cup (2014).

“My feeling is of sadness rather than wanting to say ‘thank you for your work,’ ” center-back Azusa Iwashimizu told The Japan Times.

Sawa's retired. . Anyway, it is there is only gratitude. Always overcame many walls and hardship Standing at the beginning, thus opening up the way for women's football, it was me getting connecting the history. I thought I told directly. I was happy in the best to be able to Sawa-san and football! - Yuki Ogimi

Former Japan and Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura also paid tribute.

“I’m surprised and sad. Sawa-san left huge influence not just for women but Japanese soccer as a whole,” said Nakamura.

“That will be passed on to next generation. The No. 10 and the captain’s armband really fit her.”

Sawa's retirement comes on the same day the women's game also farewell's the highest goal scorer in international football Abby Wambach.

[MORE: Abby Wambach announces retirement]

Wambach announced her retirement in October 2015 and will today play her final game for the US Women's National Team.

It's fair to say 2016 will look very different without these two icons of the game.