Women of vision

Kozue Ando

    In our series, "Women of Vision," we've been shining a spotlight on women in Japan who are influencing society.

    Kozue Ando is a three-time Olympian and a member of Japan's 2011 soccer World-Cup-winning team. She now plays professionally in Germany and has high hopes for the future of women's soccer, both on and off the field.

    Kozue Ando has been playing pro soccer in Germany since 2010 and is currently with SGS Essen. Her focus may be on her offensive skills, where she excels, but Japan is always on her mind.

    "I do have the mindset that I am playing overseas and representing Japan," she says. "I want to show that Japanese athletes can do well anywhere."

    2015 was a tough year for Ando. Her World Cup came to an unexpected end in the first match. She came in with high hopes but left with a broken ankle.

    Japan was the defending champion, but finished second this time out. It was disappointing, but Ando didn't let it get her down.

    "I was very frustrated when I got injured," she says. "But I was determined and trained hard to come back. I hope I can show that my hard work paid off this year."

    Ando had to go through four months of physical therapy. When she was able to lace up her boots again, she had a new goal in mind.

    Last season, she was a midfielder in the FFC Frankfurt team that won the European championship. It was a great accomplishment, but Ando wanted a change.

    So last fall, she moved to Essen to play in her preferred position of striker.

    She explains why: "I play as striker on the national team. My role is to get closer to goal to create scoring opportunities. That's similar to what Essen wanted from me."

    A lot of attributes are needed for a professional athlete to succeed -- practice, study and even inspiration.

    When she heard the news that a Japanese soccer legend and long-time teammate was retiring, Ando found her inspiration.

    Homare Sawa led Japan to the World Cup in 2011. She also won the Golden Ball awarded to the tournament's best player. Ando has always had great respect for Sawa:

    "I feel that I have a responsibility to pass on her contributions to the team and the lessons I learned from her to younger players."

    Ando also faces a battle off the field. Women's soccer in Japan isn't all that popular, plus it needs more funding. Ando wants to get more people interested in the sport.

    "As a professional athlete, I want children to be able to see exciting games," she says. "I want kids to dream of becoming professional athletes. I think it's very important that Japan continues to win on the world stage. That will lead to an increase in the popularity of women's soccer."

    Japan took silver at the 2012 London Games -- its first-ever Olympic women's soccer medal. Now, Ando is aiming to win gold for herself, her team and the next generation of female soccer players.

    The first step, though, is to win Asia's final qualifying tournament in February and March. That will secure a spot for Japan at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.