Japan is still grappling with one of its worst-ever peacetime disasters, but there was jubilation and praise early Monday for a squad of previously unheralded women - the national football (soccer) team. The squad defeated the United States in a penalty shootout to win the Women's World Cup Football final in Germany.
Spontaneous eruptions of joy, punctuated the early morning calm in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, Monday.
Video clip: Japan Women Wins World Cup
Fans of the country’s women’s football (soccer) team, at the famous Shibuya crossing, repeatedly shouted “Japan,” minutes after the squad posted an upset victory over the United States in the Women's World Cup finals in Germany.
A wonderful moment for Japan
It is a rare slice of good news for Japan, still coming to terms with the March 11 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that has left more than 20,000 people dead or missing.
Football fan Kazuhiro Teramoto calls it a wonderful moment for the battered country.
Teramoto says the squad demonstrated Japan’s tenacity, and the victory will energize a troubled nation.
Loyal fans poured into Tokyo bars, which remained open for the pre-dawn telecast. The team and the tournament had attracted little public attention until the Japanese women made it through the preliminary rounds.
Football fan Keiko Muranao says she stayed up all night to watch the match. She says the victory has cheered up a country that has been in a somber mood for more than four months.
“We were able to show that we are strong and we are hanging in there and we will rebuild our nation as soon as possible,” she stated.
Japan's first win over the Americans
Japan outlasted the U.S. team 3-1 on penalty kicks, after coming from behind twice in a 2-2 tie. It is the first Asian team to claim the women’s football World Cup.
Fans refer to the team as “Nadeshiko,” a pink flower that symbolizes purity and femininity in Japan. The women played with a distinct size disadvantage to the much taller Americans.
Japan had been defeated by the United States in every one of their previous 25 encounters.
Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told reporters the victory is encouraging to those working in the northeastern part of the country helping it recover from devastation.
He also said he hopes the achievement will be emulated by Japan's political establishment, which has struggled to cope with the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant.
Ironically, one of the defenders on the Japan squad, Aya Sameshima, previously worked at the crippled Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.