Forty-year-old Kozue Ando won the WE League MVP on Monday after the 2011 World Cup winner, whose natural position is a forward, helped Urawa Reds to the league title playing as a center back.
"In no way have I thought about the MVP. It's unbelievable," said the veteran after receiving the shield and a hug from World Cup-winning captain Homare Sawa. "I got weak in the knees. I've realized this is what happens when you get so shocked."
Ando, an assistant professor at the University of Tsukuba, has been honing her defensive skills by analyzing the movements of top defenders and herself.
"I hope to keep showing age is (just) a number," she said. "I hope to be someone who can give many women courage and hope by continuing to take on challenges regardless of age."
Five players made the best eleven from Urawa, including the upcoming World Cup hopefuls Hikaru Naomoto and Kiko Seike, both in midfield.
Runners-up INAC Kobe Leonessa had three representatives, including goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita and forward Mina Tanaka, while third-place Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza also had three, with top-scorer Riko Ueki joined by Aoba Fujino. The four are also strongly positioned to make the World Cup squad to be announced on Tuesday.