Women's World Cup victories boost Japan's morale(Read article summary)
Japan will face the US on Sunday in the Women's World Cup final in Germany. The team's success in the Cup has lifted a nation rocked by the devastation of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster.
Hungry for some good news after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami â€“ and the resulting, ongoing nuclear crisis â€“ the country has latched on to the success of the Japan womenâ€™s national soccer team as it reached its first World Cup final by defeating Sweden 3-1.
â€śWhen youâ€™re in a tough spot, think of the disaster victims and give it your all,â€ť team coach Norio Sasaki told his players before Wednesday nightâ€™s semi-final against Sweden.
A tough spot was exactly where Japan found itself after going behind to an early goal following an uncharacteristic mistake from captain Homare Sawa, a veteran of five world cups. Ms. Sawa redeemed herself in the second half by putting Japan in the lead with a goal, in between two goals by teammate Nahomi Kawasumi.
Public broadcaster NHK had been covering the womenâ€™s team from the beginning of the tournament, with interest growing from the rest of the media as Nadeshiko Japan â€“ as the team is called after a flower that is said to embody the ideal of Japanese femininity â€“ has progressed to its first medal in a World Cup.
With the semifinal airing at 3:45 a.m. local time Thursday, bleary-eyed Tokyoites who had got up to watch the game were handed special editions of newspapers rushed out to commemorate the teamâ€™s victory as they made their way to work.
Coverage of the team has constantly referred to the "give it your all" mantra that has been rediscovered since the March disasters, with players dedicating their victories to the victims in post-match interviews.
The teamâ€™s success has been particularly poignant for defender Aya Sameshima who played her club soccer for TEPCO Mareeze, the company team of the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Ms. Sameshima and the rest of clubâ€™s players worked part-time at the Daiichi plant when they werenâ€™t training.
The club was based at the J Village facility until March 11 when it became an emergency dormitory for crews working at the Fukushima Daiichi plant a few miles up the coast.
TEPCO Mareeze has pulled out of Japanâ€™s womenâ€™s league this season, and Sameshima joined the Boston Breakers of the US Womenâ€™s Professional Soccer league in March.