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Football
The final step for Japan's women
Japan were never meant to reach the World Cup final but they've been spurned on by something much greater than football.
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2011 15:54
The players of Japan have shown how teamwork and passion can result in the most unlikely of results [GALLO/GETTY] 

Japan have been compared to Barcelona during their World Cup campaign but they will have to play to Catalan standards to defeat the USA in the final on Sunday.

While the US is a superpower in women's football, with World Cup victories in 1991 and 1999, Japan find themselves in their very first final.

The match in Frankfurt might be Japan's first final in the record books, but Japan coach Norio Sasaki said his players already feel like they have one under their belt - against Germany.

"That was almost like playing the final in term of pressure, attitude and expectations,'' Sasaki said of the game against the hosts in the quarter-finals.

"That was almost like playing the final in term of pressure, attitude and expectations"

Japan coach Norio Sasaki 

"The actual final will be a very similar situation," said Sasaki.

Although the final will have a few more recognisable faces in the crowd.

The White House announced on Friday that Jill Biden, the wife of US Vice President Joe Biden, will head an American "presidential delegation" to the final match in Germany.

Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former president Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will also be part of the delegation to Sunday's match in Frankfurt.

The American public have been closely following every step their team has made towards the finals. 

The same weekend Japan defeated hosts Germany, the US had a similar experience, surviving a match of suffocating intensity against Brazil, with a come-from-behind effort that ended with a penalty-shootout win.

It was perhaps the best women's World Cup game ever and created a groundswell of grassroot support across the United States.

"Obviously coming from behind against Brazil is historic,'' said Abby Wambach, who scored in the last minute of extra time to level the score at 2-2 and force a shootout.

"It's one of those moments that may never happen again.

"I want it to be life-changing at the end of the road. Because right now, I'm still very much involved in this and I'm not trying to think anything other than Sunday and winning," Wambach said.

More than football

Surprise finalists Japan have been driven to success by the catastrophe that hit their country earlier this year.

The tournament has become a stage where the earthquake-torn nation can grab back some pride and joy.

The nation has been lapping up the feel-good story of their overachieving women while it is still recovering from the devastation the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused.

      USA will be backed by a presidential party but Japan are likely to have global support [GETTY] 

Already tight as a group, it has bonded the women even closer together as they are playing for a cause bigger than football itself - providing some balm for a nation in pain.

Right before the match against Germany, Sasaki showed pictures of the devastation to his players to heighten their focus and determination.

They responded in kind.

Sasaki will keep the pictures under wraps this weekend.

"I don't have to remind them of the disaster in Japan before the match against the United States because they know exactly," he said.

Back home, their story has even bumped baseball and sumo off the sports front pages.

"They're not just playing a soccer game, they're playing to heal a wounded country,'' said Tony DiCicco, the United States coach of the 1999 World Cup-winning team.

"They have won fans not just in Japan and not just here in Germany but all over the world."

In a tournament of firsts for Japan – the land of the rising sun can gain another with their first victory over the United States. 

Although raising the World Cup trophy in front of the world would mean so much more to them than that.

Source:
Agencies
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