Japan beats U.S. to seal Women’s World Cup fairytale

JAPANESE WOMEN WIN WORLD CUP SOCCER — Captain Homare Sawa (front R) and other Japan players run in celebration after Sawa scored in extra time of the Women’s World Cup Soccer final against the United States in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 17. After Sawa’s scoring led to a 2-2 draw, Japan won on penalties 3-1 in its first Women’s World Cup victory. Kyodo News photo

FRANKFURT (Kyodo) — Saki Kumagai completed a fairytale finish with the decisive spot kick as Japan stunned the United States 3-1 on penalties to win the Women’s World Cup for the first time after a 2-2 draw in extra time in the July 17 final in Frankfurt.

Tournament MVP Homare Sawa forced penalties with an equalizer in the second extra period as Japan twice came from behind, and goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalties in the shootout before Kumagai buried the winner.

“I’m both delighted and surprised,” said Kumagai. “I just hit the ball as hard as I could.”

The world title, Japan’s first at any level and the first by an Asian team, also provided a welcome lift to a country still reeling from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the northeast coast, triggering an ongoing nuclear crisis.

The victory was also the first in 25 meetings with the Americans, who were gunning for their third World Cup title after their wins in 1991 and 1999.

“My girls really played their hearts out,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki. “You never know which way it is going to go in a penalty shootout but we stayed cool. I am really surprised.”

“I can’t believe it,” said Sawa, a veteran of five World Cups. “We have got this result because we never stopped fighting until the end. This has been my goal and now I can take home the gold medal.”

After being presented with the gold trophy, Japan’s players bounced around in delight on the podium before gathering behind a sign that read “Champions. World Champions.”

And the team, whose “Nadeshiko” nickname comes from a pink frilled carnation symbolizing grace and beauty, is sure to be given a heroes’ welcome by the Japanese public when they return home.

Japan’s win was their biggest giant-killing act of the tournament, having made it to final after their shock 1-0 defeat of Germany in the quarterfinals before they swept aside Sweden 3-1 in the semis.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet and I just can’t believe it. We have achieved something amazing,” said Kaihori, who saved penalties from Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath.


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