Japan -- Women's World Cup 2011 Champions & Worldwide Inspiration
It has been said of this match, “The USA believed they were a team of destiny, but what happens when there are two teams of destiny?”
Clearly, there was truly only one team who was destined to lift not only the Women's World Cup high, but the hurting hearts of a nation, and the spirits of a planet....The Nadeshiko of Japan. With their victory at the World Cup this Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany, the women of Japan weren't just holding up a trophy with a soccer ball on it – they held up the world.
It makes sense – perfect sense, actually; Japan may have had the support of the world this year, but they also carried her weight on their shoulders.
Japan had never before made it to a semi-final match in the World Cup, and as a by-product, they had never made it to the Final, either. Additionally, Japan's all-time record versus the United States, as listed on www.ussoccer.com, stands at 0 wins, 22 losses, and 3 draws – this is the largest winning record the USA has against any other club. Additionally, an Asian team has yet to win the World Cup Final. The Americans are bigger, and in the opinion of many, the “better” of the two teams. However, my question has been throughout this tournament, "What do the games say about these teams? What do they say about Japan's team?"
I said this when I reviewed the (then) upcoming Sweden vs Japan game, and I'll say it again here. Japan had more heart than any other team in this tournament. They smiled before the games. They smiled during the games. They smiled after the games. Heck – they were smiling at each other right before the penalty kicks at the World Cup Final! Even their coach, Norio Sasaki, was smiling at his girls. And who wouldn't be? I found myself smiling as I looked on, even though I was a nervous wreck, anxious about the outcome. I know without even talking to these ladies that they were just happy to be there. They would have gone back to Japan with the same attitude of joy and appreciation for just having been there, on the pitch, playing the United States in the final. For those who watched the game from the beginning, you saw the three girls from Japan dancing in front of the camera. I have never seen this before at this level of play from any other team, and yet I see it consistently with Japan.
I saw Homare Sawa smiling, talking and laughing in the tunnel with the children before the game.
I see the childlike smile on the face of Ayumi Kaihori after she makes a brilliant save in one of the most stressful moments of a goalkeeper's life.
I see a closely-gathered team, arms around one another, smiling, looking to their coach, enjoying the moment.
What a role model this team is, for all of us.
The Japan women's victory over the United States was monumental in many ways. However, just how popular was it worldwide? Was it truly a ripple that circled the globe?
If the latest report about the number of “tweets” sent out, per second, regarding Japan's win in Frankfurt against the Americans is any indication, then the answer “Yes” would be nothing short of an understatement. According to an article posted by the Los Angeles Times, Twitter announced that a new record had been reached. Whereas events like the announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death, garnering up to 5,000 tweets per second, and the devastating tsunami that ravaged Japan hitting 5,000 tweets per second many times, the Women's World Cup Final ushered in close to 8,000 tweets per second, maxing out at 7,196.
Additionally, the Japan/US game drew the 2nd all-time largest viewer crowd in the United States market, surpassed only by the 1999 women's final which was held in the USA and featured the US team as well, and was the 6th most-viewed soccer match in history.
As I sat with my ten-year-old daughter, the two of us cheering for Japan in a restaurant full of people chanting “USA! USA! USA!” I could only hope and believe in one thing: that the power of sincerity, purity, humility, and worthiness could win this game. The United States was, and is a strong team. They have a lot of heart, and they worked hard to be who they are, and where they are. Many believed, and still do believe, that the USA was the stronger team.
I, however, believe a bit differently.
True, the USA team was strong, and true, they had heart. However, Japan won this game because they are equally as strong and unlike the US, their primary strength was spirit. The USA behaved as if they were “owed” this game, and as if they were entitled to it. Even the response to the final goal by Saki Kumagai seemed one of disbelief, as if somehow it were just a bad dream, and they would get another chance. As the crowd around me stopped their chanting, and I was left in total silence with my thoughts, even I almost couldn't believe what I had just witnessed, even though it was what I believed could happen, and had hoped and prayed for.
A quote from FIFA.com:
“Almost four months after the tragedy, the Japanese squad set out on their mission to bring a smile back to people's faces back home." Midfielder Aya Miyama said: "Obviously the victims of Fukushima were a huge motivation. The team should take the money they won here and give it to the victims. At least that's what I'm going to do with my money. We kept fighting right to the end and I always believed we could do it, even ahead of the tournament."
They kept on fighting, all right. Just as Japan will always do – I guarantee it.
Congratulations to Japan, and Asia, for their first World Cup trophy. And a special, personal thank you from myself, for bringing light into my life when it was needed, and for illuminating my soul with your resilience, heart, spirit, and smiles.
It's perfect that the sun was just starting to rise in Japan as the match ended, because it is indeed rising for your nation once again. You have my heart, Japan.
-Brandon A. English
Many of the highlights can be viewed here on FIFA's website: