Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Kuala Lumpur: Join the-afc.com as we continue our look back at key moments in the history of Asian football with an emotional rewind to 2011 and Japan's success at the FIFA Women's World Cup when they beat the USA to the title.
Winning hearts and minds……
When Japan lifted the FIFA Women's World Cup with a dramatic win over the USA on July 17, 2011, the prodigiously talented team not only claimed global bragging rights, but also delivered a major boost to the morale of a country still reeling from the deadly March earthquake and tsunami.
Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori made two saves as the final was settled by a penalty shoot-out before defender Saki Kumagai converted the spot-kick to give Japan their first World Cup title. It was sensational stuff.
Under captain Homare Sawa (pictured), Japan won the hearts of fans with impressive displays just four months after the national disaster.
Indeed, many neutral fans in football-crazy Germany had supported the Japanese team as they progressed through the rounds.
The massive earthquake - registering 8.9 on the richter scale - and the resulting tsunami had devastated the northeast coast of Japan, killing thousands and sparking the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Referring to the terror attacks of September 11 2001, Frankfurt business teacher Frank Forster summed up the feelings of many when he said: "After 9/11 we were all a little American; since Fukushima we are all a little Japanese."
While none of the Japan squad were directly caught up in the disaster, the Japanese women's football league was heavily affected.
Worst hit of all was the TEPCO Mareeze club, based near Fukushima, which was forced to suspend playing activity and withdraw from the L-League, Japan's top women's league, for the entire season.
The players were forced to train elsewhere, but left-back Aya Sameshima, who played in the final, was taken on by US team Boston Breakers.
The start of the season was delayed by a month to help conserve power, while the men's professional J-League was put on hold for six weeks.
The women's league was harder hit as the majority of players are amateurs who fit training and playing around their work or studies.
With morale low across the country, the players found it difficult to return to football, let alone think about the women's World Cup.
"Early on, I felt that it might not be the right moment to play football and that I should have something else to do," said Japan defender Azusa Iwashimizu.
"But after a while, when the team activities had stopped and I was training alone, it made me realise just how much I love to play football."
Given that many of the Nadeshiko were based in Japan, their World Cup preparations were badly affected.
When the USA recorded back-to-back 2-0 wins over Japan during friendlies in March, coach Norio Sasaki admitted his side were not as well prepared as their American rivals.
But Japan matured and developed in Germany.
Group stage wins over New Zealand and Mexico were followed by a 2-0 defeat to England before Japan pulled off the giant-killing of the tournament to beat host nation Germany in the quarter-finals, then Sweden in the last four.
Their dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over the United States duly completed the fairytale as Sasaki’s charges beat the USA for the first time at the 26th attempt to seal the title and, perhaps just as importantly, go some way to healing the pain being felt in Japan.
Photo: FIFA / Getty Images