The United States Women’s National Team lost to Japan after extra time and penalty kicks Sunday in the Women’s World Cup final. The game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation. America’s Abby Wambach scored a goal during the 104th minute to put the U.S. up 2-1. Japan fought hard, and the last minute heroics of Japan’s Homare Sowa tied the game with only three minutes remaining in extra time to force the penalty kicks, where Japan outscored the U.S. 3-1. When the game went to kicks, Americans were faced with an all too familiar feeling. The last time the U.S. won a Women’s World Cup was 12 years ago, in 1999, when Brandi Chastain scored the deciding penalty kick to win the final game against China on home soil at California’s Rose Bowl. Chastain’s celebration became one of the most prolific sports photos of the time.
Sunday’s game, of course, did not go as well. The Japanese team came back and won the game. The win is being billed as a glimmer of hope for a country facing tough times. The Wall Street Journal‘s Yoree Kohcontextualizes the win, writing that it’s “coming four months after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and weeks of bungling by the nation’s leaders in response, the title gives the struggling, weary country a tenacious national symbol to rally around.” The team has proved to be a rallying point for the Japanese people, who refer to them as “Nadeshiko” which is “chosen after a pink flower seen in Japan to symbolize a combination of beauty and strength.”
The Journal spoke to a bar owner in Tokyo who stayed open all night so people could watch the game, which started at 6:20 a.m. locally in Japan. “After all that they have been through, they have conveyed hopes and dreams to Japan,” the bar owner told The Journal. Fans at the sports bar ” toasted the women with paper cups ceremoniously filled with wine, and wiped away tears.”
The New York Times‘ George Vescey wrote that the American team fought hard, but came up short against a team determined to find themselves atop the podium after a “monumental triple blow of earthquake and tsunami and nuclear breakdown on March 11.”
The American team was the heavy favorite coming into Sunday’s game in Frankfurt. This was Japan’s first Women’s World Cup win, whereas the Americans have won twice already. “The last week we have all been talking about American resiliency, and it is true,” the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, told The Times. The Japanese team had to beat the two-time defending champion German squad before advancing to advance to the semifinals, and where they beat a tough Swedish squad to earn a spot in the final. The teams resiliency kept them moving forward, towards an American team expected to reclaim glory lost over the last decade.
And here came the Japanese, resourceful, skilled, with their coach smiling peacefully — like a wise, reflective mask in a Japanese Noh theater drama — as they broke the huddle to take penalty kicks. And they prevailed. It was Japan’s time, Japan’s legend in the year of Fukushima.