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The Early Lead
Posted at 09:51 AM ET, 07/18/2011

Women’s World Cup final: Japan rejoices


Tournament MVP Homare Sawa (C) celebrates with her teammates after Japan won its first Women’s World Cup in thrilling fashion. (PATRIK STOLLARZ - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
In the span of one week the Women’s World Cup went from afterthought to front and center for two nations separated by the vast Pacific Ocean.

Q&A: The Post’s Steven Goff chatted with readers about the thrilling final Monday morning. Here’s the transcript.

In the United States, Abby Wambach’s last-second goal and the teams' ensuing penalty kick shootout victory against Brazil in last week’s quarterfinals awakened sports fans across the country and immediately drew comparisons to the 1999 World Cup champions.

And in Japan, a stunning win over two-time defending champions and hosts Germany sounded the alarm alerting a country short of women’s soccer tradition that it’s spirited team was on the precipice of something truly special.

In Sunday’s final, despite U.S. dominance for long stretches of play, Japan always had an answer, creating a troubling feeling of inevitability for Americans huddled around televisions nationwide. American goalie Hope Solo and her teammates were aware of it, too: “They are the sentimental favorites of this tournament, and it’s pretty clear to us they’re playing for something bigger and better than the game.”

With its dramatic shootout victory, Japan achieved just that — something bigger and better than the game — and filled a nation still struggling with the fallout from recent natural disasters with joy and pride and a much-needed positive distraction.

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wrote of the power of a momentous victory on the pitch to uplift a troubled nation.

“The World Cup has no magical powers than can make a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown un-happen. But it can console, and uplift and send a message home about fighting back, and you’d be one ugly American to begrudge them this victory.”

The Post’s Japan correspondent, Chico Harlan, witnessed the effect Sunday’s final had on the Japanese people back home first hand.

“Many fans here didn’t know of the Women’s World Cup — or of the Japanese women’s team’s abilities — until days ago, after a quarterfinal upset of Germany. Then Japan embraced its Nadeshiko, as the women’s team is known. Its romp to the finals turned into front-page news. The prime minister talked about it. The match against the United States began at 3:45 a.m. local time, but at one Tokyo sports bar, twenty- and thirty-somethings were packed elbow to elbow, arriving early enough to sing the country’s national anthem.
“The Japanese people, said Toshihiro Higaki, 26, “need something they can be proud of.”

The final also broke a Twitter record with 7,196 tweets per second at the end of the match and prominent political names, athletes and celebrities were among the contributors.

Couldn't be prouder of the women of #USWNT after a hard-fought game. Congratulations to Japan, Women's World Cup Champions.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Sports Illustrated soccer scribe Grant Wahl summed up the feelings on both ends after a riveting tournament final.

“Both teams seemed like they were on a run to destiny, the U.S. building on its miraculous quarterfinal victory over Brazil and Japan reaching its first final in the same year its country was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami. This is a cruel sport sometimes, and the U.S. players will remember this lost opportunity for the rest of their careers. But you'd have to be heartless not to admire the Japanese for their stunning drive to the title. It's a great story, and they leave here as deserving champions.”

More Women’s World Cup coverage:

Photo gallery: Images from the 2011 Women’s World Cup

Video: Japan’s World Cup win stuns U.S. fans

Sally Jenkins: Both teams deserve respect after enthralling game

John Feinstein: Darren Clarke, Japan women illustrate sports’ redemptive powers

Chico Harlan: In Japan, an overflowing cup of pride

U.S. can’t hold off emotional Japan

Relive the match with Soccer Insider’s Steven Goff’s live match blog

By  |  09:51 AM ET, 07/18/2011

 
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