Japan were inspired by fans at home. Michael Probst/AP/Press Association Images
Rising Sun

Watch: Heartbreak for USA as Japan win Women's World Cup for first time

Japan twice came from behind to bring the tie to penalties, where the came out on top 3-1. Check it out here.

WITH THE TSUNAMI that devastated their country just four months ago fresh in their minds, the Japanese players refused to be beaten last night in the final of the Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Whatever they could do, they vowed, they would.

True to their word, the gleaming World Cup trophy will ride back on the plane with them — a prize, they hope, that will lift the gloom, even if only for a short while.

“Before we went to the match tonight we had some commentary on television and we heard comments on the situation in Japan,” coach Norio Sasaki said after Japan upset the Americans for the World Cup title in a riveting final last night, 3-1 on penalties, after coming from behind twice in a 2-2 draw.

This was Japan’s first appearance in the final of a major tournament, and they hadn’t beaten the Americans in their first 25 meetings, including a pair of 2-0 losses in warm-up games a month before the World Cup. But the Nadeshiko pushed ahead, playing inspired football and hoping their success could provide even a small emotional lift to their nation, where nearly 23,000 people died or were reported missing in the March 11 catastrophe.

Before Japan upset Germany in the quarter-finals, Sasaki showed his players images of the destruction to remind them of their higher purpose.

“They touched us deep in our souls,” star Aya Miyama said about the photos at the time.

The Americans, twice previous winners of the tournament and the dominant side for much of the final, were gracious in defeat. Carli Lloyd summed up the mood in the American camp and perhaps of many watching the game around the world:

If any other country was to win this, then I’m really happy and proud for Japan. Deep down inside I really thought it was our destiny to win it. But maybe it was Japan’s.

The Americans had ridden their luck to make it to the final, but simply couldn’t pull off one last thriller. “It just seemed like all of Japan suffered so much,” Abby Wambach said. “It seemed like their country needed them to win more than ours.”

Homare Sawa, the tournament’s top scorer who netted the all important equaliser to take the game to penalties, spoke of the tireless work ethic that has seen Japan defeat some of their supposedly more technically gifted opponents.

“We ran and ran,” Sawa said. “We were exhausted, but we kept running.”

- additional reporting AP