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Japanese Women's Soccer Team Lifts Disaster-Weary Country

Homare Sawa (L) of Japan celebrates with her teammate Nahomi Kawasumi after scoring against Sweden during their Women's World Cup semi-final soccer match in Frankfurt, July 13, 2011

The surprise success of the Japanese women's soccer team in the World Cup tournament has boosted the spirits of a country worn down by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis.

The team defeated Sweden 3-1 Wednesday evening in Frankfurt, Germany, to advance to the World Cup final for the first time. After the win, the players unfurled a large banner thanking the world for its support and help following Japan's earthquake and tsunami, which left almost 21,000 people dead or missing.

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.

The Japanese women will face off against the United States in Sunday's championship game.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.