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Posted at 10:07 AM ET, 07/18/2011

At Women’s World Cup final, Japan team inspired by tsunami photos, connections to nuclear disaster


Japan celebrates after winning the Women's World Cup final match against USA 3-1 on Sunday in Frankfurt. (PATRIK STOLLARZ - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

After a year in which Japan faced a triple disaster of tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear meltdown, the nation’s team was buoyed by tragedy to win the Women’s World Cup final Sunday night.

It was a win that echoed The New Orleans Saints making the Super Bowl five years after Hurricane Katrina, which ABC News called “one of the biggest bright spots” for the city in years.

Likewise, the news was a bright spot for the devastated country of Japan, whose coach Norio Sasaki motivated players by showing them photos of devastated towns along Japan's northeastern coast that were washed away by the tsunami.

But perhaps Sasaki didn’t even need to remind them — his team was already connected to the nuclear disaster in more strange ways that one.

In 2009, the team held a training camp at an athletic complex in Fukushima, where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that was hobbled by the tsunami is located. Several players had been members of the Tokyo Electric Power Company Mareeze women’s soccer club. And midfielder Aya Sameshima even once worked at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Post’s Chico Harlan called Sunday’s win “a break from [Japan’s] own victimhood.” He writes:

Because of its women’s soccer team, thousands packed bars here during vampire hours. They chanted their country’s name. They chewed on towels and covered their eyes. Finally, they went wild with joy.
Japan’s penalty shootout victory over the United States on Sunday didn’t so much rekindle Japan’s national pride — even in mourning, that never ebbed — but it gave this recovering country a reminder of why that pride existed in the first place.

“We ran and we ran,” team captain Homare Sawa, who scored the goal that tied the score at 2-2, said after the game. “We were exhausted but we kept running.”

See photos of the world cup finals here.

By  |  10:07 AM ET, 07/18/2011

 
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