Japan defeated the U.S. in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in a penalty shootout, becoming the first Asian team to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup. For many, Japan’s penalty shoot-out victory over USA in the Final was a fitting conclusion to the tournament, especially in light of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami which devastated the country earlier in the year. The Nadeshiko, inspired by star player Homare Sawa, combined slick passing with technical finesse to prove that women’s football has truly arrived in every corner of the globe.
The team’s popularity has soared at home, where citizens have struggled for months to recover and rebuild. National broadcaster NHK says newspapers published special editions on the team’s advance through the tournament, and quotes Prime Minister Naoto Kan as offering his personal support to the squad.
Great recap of the game. We recommend muting it though (annoying music)
Following in the footsteps of Norway (1995), USA (1991, 1999) and Germany (2003, 2007), Japan became only the fourth women’s world champions and can now count themselves among the true greats of the sport. “We definitely wanted a medal, but I never would have dared to dream that we’d win it or that I would win the adidas Golden Boot,” said midfield maestro Sawa, who also received the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
We’ve played the USA 25 times before and never won.
The competition sprang a number of surprises. Few predicted that Norway would be packing their bags by the end of the group stage, fewer still that reigning champions, hosts and favourites Germany would bow out in the quarter-finals along with fellow 2007 finalists Brazil.
Sweden and France reached the semi-finals and in so doing secured their place at the 2012 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in London. While the Scandinavians played their way into fans’ hearts with a refreshing brand of attacking football, Les Bleues were met with critical acclaim for their sumptuous technique and creative build-up play.
USA went into the Final brimming with confidence as they sought to become the competition’s most successful nation outright. However, in a dramatic decider in Frankfurt, Japan twice fought back to force the game into penalties and ultimately held their nerve in the shoot-out to claim their maiden title. “It was a difficult moment for us because we were so close, but I think Japan, a country which has gone through so much over the past few months, almost needed the victory more than we did,” said USA striker Abby Wambach. “The thought that their success will bring happiness and hope to the Japanese people is a consolation.”
I’ll be delighted if our victory gives the people of Japan strength. It proves that you can achieve anything if you fight hard enough.
Norio Sasaki’s (Japan coach) Nadeshiko (nickname of Japan Women’s Team, meaning “ideal woman”) were certainly made to work for their title, requiring extra-time and penalties to overcome a USA side currently top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. “I didn’t know how the Americans were going take their penalties, I just trusted my intuition,” said goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori. “When we were 2-1 down, we didn’t give up because we knew we still had enough time.”
“I still can’t believe we did it,” continued the 24-year-old, who, like many of her colleagues, dedicated her success to the victims of the catastrophic earthquakes in her homeland earlier this year. “I’ll be delighted if our victory gives the people of Japan strength. It proves that you can achieve anything if you fight hard enough.”
Almost four months after the tragedy, the Japanese squad set out on their mission to bring a smile back to people’s faces back home. Midfielder Aya Miyama said: “Obviously the victims of Fukushima were a huge motivation. The team should take the money they’ve won here and give it to the victims. At least that’s what I’m going to do with my money. We kept fighting right to the end and I always believed we could do it, even ahead of the tournament.”
The players were not the only ones beaming after their historic achievement. Japanese Football Association (JFA) President Junji Ogura also took the opportunity to express his delight at the victory. “It’s almost like a miracle. We’ve played the USA 25 times before and never won. After all, the USA are top of the world rankings.”
“If Japan ever host a FIFA Women’s World Cup in the future, I hope Homare Sawa is responsible for the organization. I’m delighted that our players were able to demonstrate the strength of Japanese women. There can’t be a happier President in the world than me right now.”
Homare Sawa’s name will forever be associated with Germany 2011. Undoubtedly the star of the Japanese team, she finished the tournament as the adidas Golden Boot winner with five goals and also won the Golden Ball as the competition’s best player.
“I’m so grateful and proud that Sawa won so many awards as she’s the engine of our team,” said Yuki Nagasato. Fellow striker Shinobu Ohno added: “Sawa is the big star in Japan. What she’s done for this team is worth more than any gold medal.”
Germany fully embraced the second chapter of their ‘summer fairytale’. A phenomenal total of 845,711 fans attended the 32 matches, and the breathtaking backdrop of 73,680 fans for the Opening Match at the historic Berlin Olympiastadion will live long in the memory. “The stadiums were great and the crowds’ enthusiasm remained even after the German team went out,” said a delighted FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
Furthermore, the number of teams capable of challenging for the title has grown – a development commented on by Tina Theune, a member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG): “This is the right moment to increase the field for the Women’s World Cup 2015 from 16 to 24 teams,” the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning coach told FIFA.com.
Germany 2011 set a new benchmark for the future of women’s football. As the amount of worldwide interest continues to grow, players, fans and experts alike are already starting to look forward to the next edition of the tournament in Canada in four years’ time.
Thanks to Fifa.com and Japan Football Association for contributing to this article