Born: Sept. 6, 1978, in Tokyo, Japan

Position: Midfielder

Clubs played for: Yomiuri Beleza (Japan), Atlanta Beat (U.S.A.), NTV Beleza (Japan), Washington Freedom (U.S.A.)

International career: On Dec. 6, 1993, at age 15, Sawa made her national team debut in spectacular fashion, scoring four goals in a match against the Philippines. She has remained a fixture for Japan ever since, participating in the last four FIFA Women's World Cups and the last three Olympic tournaments. She is Japan's all-time leader in goals and appearances, and was twice voted Asian Player of the Year (2004 and 2008).

Why is she so special? Without question, Sawa is the finest player to emerge from Asia. Her diminutive stature has not held her back from a long and successful career. Germany 2011 will be her fifth Women's World Cup and the tiny, combative central midfielder, who is noted for keeping her composure under pressure, will again be a crucial presence for Japan. 

Her most famous moment: Sawa scored the clinching goal in the Asian Championship playoff against China to book Japan's passage to Germany.

What they're saying about her: "If you asked me what type of player I like, Sawa would be the example I would use." — Jim Gabarra, Washington Freedom coach

Here's an interesting fact: Sawa made her professional debut in Japan's first division in 1991 at the age of 12.