TOKYO - Named after a frilly pink flower,
Japan's World Cup-winning women's football team embodied the
iron-willed spirit of a nation united in its battle to recover
When Saki Kumagai smashed the ball high into the net to
complete a nail-biting penalty shootout victory over the United
States in Frankfurt, bars and clubs across Tokyo exploded with
cheers as fans celebrated a first world title for an Asian side.
"They just demonstrated Japan's tenacity," 41-year-old
football fan Kazuhiro Teramoto told Reuters with the sun already
peeping over the rooftops on a holiday Monday.
"Fighting back again and again. They were fantastic."
Japan's "Nadeshiko" - named after a delicate pink carnation - twice came from behind against the more powerful Americans to
take the final to penalties.
"My girls played their hearts out," Japan coach Norio Sasaki
told Japanese morning television, fighting back tears.
"We could really feel the power from everyone in Japan
watching on TV. I'm stunned."
Japan's astonishing run in Germany has given the country a
real lift after the devastating earthquake and tsunami which
struck the north-east on March 11.
Amid fears of radiation after the giant tsunami wave
triggered a nuclear meltdown at a power plant 150 miles north of
Tokyo, and with thousands still living in shelters, Japan's
victory was as emotional as it was unexpected.
"I felt the whole of Japan smile," the tearful mother of
Japan captain Homare Sawa told Fuji Television.
Sawa's audacious flick forced extra-time, and brought her
the Golden Boot for her fifth goal of the tournament, before it
was left to the pint-sized Kumagai to finish the job.
"I'm amazed," said Kumagai after her winning kick in the
shootout. "I just smacked it as hard as I could."
Japan's petite musketeers, at an average height of 1.62m,
seven centimetres shorter than the muscular Americans, unfurled
a banner after being showered in confetti.
It read: "To our friends around the world - thank you for
American goalkeeper Hope Solo said of Japan's victory: "I
truly believe that something bigger was pulling for this team."
Sasaki had used images of the disaster to help motivate
Japan's players before shock victories over champions and hosts
Germany and Sweden in the previous two games.
Karina Maruyama, who once worked for Tokyo Electric Power,
operator of the crippled nuclear plant, had come off the bench
to score the extra-time winner against Germany in the
quarter-finals, underlining Japan's steely determination.
"Every time Japan got knocked down, they got to their feet
again," 36-year-old florist Akiko Shirai told Reuters after
partying through the night.
"They did not want to stop fighting for the disaster
Another reveller, 38-year-old office worker Aki Miyajima,
also praised Japan's never-say-die spirit.
"Japan had to defend for so long. The Americans were so big
they were like a wall," she said. "But Japan won by willpower -
Sawa, voted the tournament's MVP, cradled her gold medal.
"I can't believe it," the scorer of 80 goals in 173 games
for her country and a veteran of five World Cups told Japanese
"We have the gold medal because we never stopped fighting
and believing in ourselves."
Japan's women can expect a ticker-tape welcome on their
return, having captured the hearts of a public trying to put a
brave face on frequent earthquake aftershocks and radiation
"The goalkeeper [Ayumi Kaihori] summed up Japan up for me,"
said 37-year-old banker Naoki Tsuchiya. "So small but she saved
two penalties in the shootout.
"The way she gritted her teeth and pumped her fists. Those
pictures on TV will give people energy and hope."
Kaihori herself confessed to feeling she was in a
"I allowed two goals in the match so I put my heart into the
shootout," she said. "It hasn't sunk in. This stuff only happens
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