Japan’s 2011 Women’s World Cup Soccer Team – Tragedy and Triumph

Japan’s World Cup Women’s Soccer Team

What’s unique about sports is that its importance is both minimized and maximized in times of tragedy. Its importance is minimized when people are reminded that it’s just a game and the realities of life are put back into perspective. Yet, its importance is also maximized because sports has the power to heal a nation, provide an outlet for emotions, and offer a much-needed distraction.

Following a 9.0 earthquake in March 2011 that destroyed towns along Japan’s Northeast coastline, the people of Japan needed the distraction and the healing that its Women’s World Cup Soccer Team could provide, and the team seemingly took on that responsibility. Despite being huge underdogs, the Japanese Women appeared destined to win with upset after upset, including a victory over two-time defending champion Germany in which the winning goal was scored by a backup player who also worked at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was destroyed by the earthquake.

After defeating the favored Swedish team in the semifinals, the Japan Women advanced to their first World Cup final in history. Their opponent was the United States, who had never lost to Japan in all 25 previous matches (22-0-3) while outscoring them 77-13. During the game, the US Women’s Team missed several opportunities to score, including one shot that hit the post and another that hit the crossbar. US finally scored in the 69th minute, only to see Japan tie it with 9 minutes left in regulation on a goal in the 81st minute. In extra time, the US women scored a goal in the 104th minute but Japan responded with 3 minutes remaining in extra time on a goal in the 117th minute.

Two spectacular saves by the Japanese goalie plus a missed goal by the US Women gave Japan a 3-1 penalty kick win and the 2011 World Cup title. “Maybe their country needed them to win more than our country needed us to win,” U.S. star forward Abby Wambach said. For this accomplishment, they were nominated for Sports Illustrated’s 2011 Sportsman of the Year award.

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