Japan emerged victorious Sunday in Germany in the sixth FIFA Women's World Cup, beating the top-ranked United States in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw after extra time. VOA followed a group of the U.S. team's youngest fans as they watched and learned from their idols.
The World Cup final was not the only important game in women's football (soccer) Sunday.
A high-level U-13 youth team near Washington -- Real Maryland FC -- played its own match.
Thirteen-year-old team member Gabby Torres was excited about the championship game between the United States and Japan because she wants to be a professional soccer player one day.
“It shows that I can be there too, if I work hard enough, because the girls that are playing they were just like me,” she said.
Gabby's father and coach, Brazilian-born Kennedy Torres, calls the growing popularity of women's soccer, especially at the youth level, an amazing phenomenon.
“Since I've been coaching for the past six years, every year I see twice the number of girls trying to play soccer and learning the game, and a lot more coaches and trainers trying to encourage the girls to get to a higher level, so it has been great,” Torres stated.
Torres says he encourages his players to imagine themselves scoring the winning goal in World Cup competition.
"I bet that if you ask a lot of these players who are playing today on the World Cup finals, that they were inspired in 1999 when U.S. won the World Cup, so maybe, you today, you saw some players that eight years from now or 12 years from now are going to be in the finals," Torres said. "So I think that's one of the things that watching the World Cup allows them to do is to dream."
Emotions ran high as the girls watched the match at a local restaurant. They even dressed for the occasion, donning U.S. jerseys and waving American flags.
The crowd erupted when the United States scored the first goal of the game in the second half.
But the mood quickly changed as Japan caught up 12 minutes later and just nine minutes before the United States could claim victory.
Also paying close attention to the match was 28-year-old Jimmy Srun. He was one of the few people in the restaurant happy about Japan's win.
"I'm kind of rooting for Japan just because of all the strife that they have been through, not in terms of their soccer team, but in terms of politically and economically, just due to the tsunami. So I mean, I feel that they would need something to kind of give them that uplifter, to, you know, give them a sense of unity again, a sense of strength," he said.
The entire restaurant watched intently as Japan tied the United States again, 2-2, after the game went into extra time.
Although the girls were disappointed by the loss, Gabby Torres says there is a lesson in it. "It shows don't give up because Japan was always 100 percent going, and they got it, and that's how they won," she noted.
Regardless of the outcome, she says she still loves the American team.