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David (Japan) Beats Goliath (USA)

posted by Women in Sport International
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 10:03am EDT

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By JoJo Rennie


Japan have came far in this tournament, not only beating European opposition for the first time with their impressive defeat of Germany - but doing it against the two time World Cup champions in their own back yard. A blog in the Guardian highlights their plight simply, noting that these women have become “global ambassadors for a nation.” The players were heavily motivated by the tragedy in March that affected not only their country but their lives personally. It's a touching story, that led many neutrals to support this underdog in the biggest stage of their careers.



In the 25 meetings between these two, prior to this final, USA have won 22 and drawn 3 times. What better time for Japan to come out victorious than in the World Cup final. Outplayed by an impressive USA team in the first half, it seemed only a question of when USA would score, not if. Megan Rapinoe, particularly, worked tirelessly in the midfield. She was rewarded midway through the second half when her superb long pass upfield found Alex Morgan, who swiftly netted a fierce left foot shot. Japan's fighting spirit, evident throughout the competition, was present throughout the final, as they battled back for an equaliser. With a mistake at the heart of the defence. Aya Miyama pulled back a scrappy goal for Japan. Extra time followed, with tiring legs, but no less drive on the field. USA pulled ahead once more with Abby Wambach's header just before the half, but it wasn't enough to see them crowned victors as Japan continued to fight. When they needed it most, their inspirational captain, and arguably player of the tournament, Homare Sawa came to their rescue with her 5th goal of the tournament. A smart flick on from a corner in the 117th minute meant the tie would go to penalties.

As any fan of football would attest, a penalty shoot-out is the most nerve wracking and heartbreaking way to lose an important match. Japan had come further than anyone had expected; a team growing with every match, in both terms of technical ability and confidence. To be champions you need a bit of luck, and, with a penalty shoot-out, a cool head on your shoulders. With 3 successive misses from the USA, Saki Kumagai had the chance to win the Cup with Japan's fourth kick. Her powerful shot to the top left of the goal left Hope Solo with no chance. This victory was an impressive feat by the clear underdogs: having previously never advanced past the quarter-finals in this tournament, as well as never being crowned Asian champions, nor beating European opposition or the USA.

It has been simultaneously exciting and frustrating reading blogs and news coverage of the Women's World Cup. It's exciting because it's come (somewhat) into the media mainstream – albeit fleeting – with a buzz surrounding the matches; the players, supporters, results. It's also been extremely frustrating as I realise how far the sport needs to come. There are still the same old problems apparent when women's sport is thrust into the media spotlight. For every positive report on the Cup, there's been the odd reference to physical characteristics of the women, as well as some social commentary of, “who cares? Who's watching the women anyway?” A suitably smarmy comment by a Daily Mail reporter witnessing Sweden's Josefine Oqvist swapping her shirt with a German fan caught my eye. For Oqvist this was intended as a bit of a laugh, as well as a gracious gesture: “I just saw that he likes me and supported me – that's why I gave it to him” It was, however, reported with a certain insincere tone. This section of the paper is a re-cap of videos of the week, often intended as tongue in cheek. His comments on Oqvist are below:

We might have been a bit harsh on the Women's World Cup last week but we take it all back after watching the Swedish beauty in action.
After her team beat North Korea 1-0 (we think, that's not the important bit) Oqvist went to the crowd for a quick chat (she is a woman after all).
When a fan asked to swap shirts with her, not only did she oblige but she gave the lucky guy the kissed (sic) he asked for too. Take a bow Josefine.

Despite the obvious humour the whole article is trying to purvey, it is still particularly degrading to witness how succinctly they have downplayed the importance of the match - as well as the calibre and professionalism these women possess.

Will this year prove to be the year that has helped women's football? It has shown that the sport can be just as unpredictable, exciting and hard fought as the men's game. The level of football is not on par with the men's, but no-one is expecting that from the women. The passion, drive and tempo was apparent in every match: from the early group stage to the extra time and penalty drama right up to the final. It is interesting to note that the lack of high scoring matches has a positive effect, as it gives respectability to the game. The beginning of the tournament was marred slightly by the issue of homophobia rife in the Nigerian camp, but hopefully issues such as this brought into the media forefront encourages debate and, eventually, change. There is no doubt that, if ever there was an advert for the women's game, it was this World Cup final; excitement, unpredictability and passion in abundance.


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