FRANKFURT, Germany, July 18, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's World Cup victory can only help women's football to grow after the success of Germany 2011, USA coach Pia Sundhage has said after her side lost the final 3-1 on penalties.
Japan became the first Asian team to win the World Cup after captain Homare Sawa, voted player of the tournament and the event's top-scorer, equalised in the 117th minute to tie the scores at 2-2 after extra time.
|AFP - Supporters of the Japanese women's football team react during the women's World Cup football championship game against the US during a public viewing at Yamato city, suburban Tokyo on July 18, 2011.|
They finished the game with 10 players after defender Azusa Iwashimizu was sent off in the 121st minute for a foul on the edge of the penalty area.
But the Japanese held their nerve and goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalties before defender Saki Kumagai hit the winning spot-kick to trigger huge celebrations from Frankfurt all the way back to Tokyo.
This was Japan's first win over the Americans at the 26th time of trying and Sundhage praised the winners by saying their fighting spirit could only benefit women's football.
"There is something to be said about the way Japan plays," she said.
"They are comfortable with the ball even when they are behind and that kind of thing is good for women’s football."
The women's World Cup has been heralded by FIFA, the sport's governing body, as a huge success with 782,000 tickets out of a possible 900,000 tickets sold and 86 percent of the overall stadiums' capacity was used.
The stars of the show have been Japan who proved height does not matter -- their tallest player is 1.71 metres -- as they floored some giants of the women's game.
Despite their nickname of Nadeshiko -- a delicate flower symbolising grace and beauty -- Japan were the giant-killers of Germany 2011 as they stunned the hosts in the quarter-finals.
Germany had been one of the favourites, along with Brazil and England, but all three exited in the quarter-finals.
Having scored a hat-trick in the 4-0 group stage win over Mexico, Sawa produced a long-range pass for the winning goal to seal a 1-0 victory over Germany in the quarter-final in Wolfsburg.
Likewise, the USA left it until the 122nd minute of their quarter-final against Brazil to make it 2-2 after extra time in Dresden.
Then Hope Solo, who has also captured the imagination here with stellar performances, was the hero in the penalty shoot-out.
The USA beat the south Americans 5-3 on penalties to make the last four and while Brazil's star player Marta, voted the best women's player in the world for the last five years, bowed out, Sawa showed some Asian flair.
Just like the Brazilians, England threw away the lead against France to crash out in their quarter-final, also on penalties.
Sweden, who beat France 2-1 in the third-place play-off to finish third, managed a group stage win over the USA, but eventually lost in the semi-final in Frankfurt as the Japanese came from behind to inflict a 3-1 win.
The Swedes caught the imagination with their dance routine borrowed from Olympique Lyon by striker Lotta Schelin and inspired by French rapper Moussier Tombola's hit Logobitombo.
The USA went through to the final with a workman-like performance in the rain in Moenchengladbach to inflict a 3-1 defeat on France.
The final had plenty of drama.
Despite the USA dominating the opening exchanges, the Japanese reigned supreme, just four months after the earthquake and tsunami devastated their country and sparked the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant
With slick passing and a never-say-die spirit, many neutral fans in football-crazy Germany were won over by the Japanese and supported them as they progressed through the rounds.
Referring to the terror attacks of September 11 2001, Frankfurt business teacher Frank Forster summed up the feelings of many Germans when he said: "After 9/11 we were all a little American; since Fukushima we are all a little Japanese."