Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Robin Basselin.
And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
On July 17th, 2011 thousands of people gathered in Frankfurt, Germany. They came to watch a football game. But this was not a normal game. This was the women’s World Cup final game. The World Cup is one of the most important international football competitions. And this game would decide the champion.
Two women faced each other on the football field. The crowd was both excited and worried. One of the women was from the United States of America. She was defending the football goal. The other player was from Japan. She was ready to try and kick the ball past the American goal keeper. The crowd knew something big was about to happen. The crowd became quiet. The Japanese player kicked the ball. It was a goal! The crowd cheered loudly. Japan was the new Women’s World Cup Champion. But for the Japanese team and the people watching, this was much more than just a football game. Today’s Spotlight program is on how this victory brought hope to a country.
On March 11th, 2011, Japan suffered a major earthquake and tsunami. This large wave of water crashed onto the northern coast of Japan. The earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people and injured thousands more. The events destroyed many buildings and villages. The tsunami also caused major accidents at three building that produce nuclear power. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes to seek safety. These events caused much pain and suffering for the people of Japan.
But even during this time of sadness and loss, the women’s Japanese football team never stopped training. They had a dream. The Japanese women wanted to win the World Cup. They wanted to encourage their country. And they wanted to bring joy and hope after the earthquake and tsunami.
The Japanese team dreamed of winning the World Cup. But there were many reasons why people thought it was not possible. One reason was that an Asian team had never won the World Cup before. Another reason was that Japan was playing the United States of America. The Japanese women’s team had played the American team 25 times before. And they had always lost. In fact, just one month before the World Cup, they lost to the American team two times.
The Japanese women’s team knew these facts. But they still had a dream. Head Coach Norio Sasaki encouraged his team by showing them pictures. These pictures showed towns that were damaged by the tsunami. The pictures made the players recognize the importance of their dream. They knew every game they won would bring hope to the people of Japan.
People called the Japanese women’s team a special name: Nadeshiko. Nadeshiko is the name of a strong and beautiful flower. Even in difficult conditions, this flower continues to grow and survive. The Japanese team showed their strength and beauty in their World Cup games. First, they won a surprising game against the German team. Then, they easily beat the Swedish team.
Nilla Fischer plays for the Swedish women’s football team. She talked with the sports news organization ESPN about the name Nadeshiko. She said,
“The Japanese team has been through a lot. But they are a strong team. You can see that they are strong together. When one moves, they all move.”
Next, the Japanese team would play the United States in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final game. Before the final game, coach Sasaki told ESPN,
“I think what we have been doing is very good for Japan. We are still recovering from the earthquake. So many victims were hurt by the earthquake. Even little things, like a win, can give people courage and hope.”
As the final game began, people thought Japan would lose again to the United States. Early in the game, the United States made a goal. But then, Japan quickly scored a goal as well. Late in the game, the United States scored another goal. There was very little hope for the Japanese women. Japanese player, Homare Sawa told the FIFA Football organization,
“When the game was two goals to one, I thought it would be difficult for us to win. But no one gave up.”
It seemed impossible for Japan to win. But the team never stopped trying. And in the final minutes, Japan made a goal to tie the game, two to two. The game would now be decided by a shootout. One at a time, players from each team would try to kick the ball past the other team’s goal keeper.
Two of the first three Japanese players made goals. But all three American players missed. Then Abby Wambach made a goal for the American team. The shootout was now two goals for Japan, one for the Americans. Japanese player Saki Kumagai walked up to the football. The crowd knew that if she made the goal, the Japanese team would win. Kumagai ran towards the ball and kicked it. Goal! The Japanese team had won.
The people of Japan felt great joy when the women won the final game. Ai Asada is from Tokyo. She told the Los Angeles Times newspaper that when the Japanese team won, she cried.
Saori Shiratori is another Japanese team supporter. She watched the game and told the Los Angeles Times,
“At a time when things are going so bad for Japan, this news makes me so happy. We have made history.”
During the World Cup, the Japanese team held up a large sign before every game. The sign said, “To our friends around the world, thank you for your support.” They wanted to thank the world for supporting Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. After the final game, they held up the sign again, and bowed. People from around the world were watching. And everyone knew why this game was so important for Japan.
American player Abby Wambach told the FIFA Football organization,
“Losing was difficult for us because we were so close to winning. But I think Japan is a country which has gone through so much over the past few months. They almost needed the victory more than we did. It helps to know that their success will bring happiness and hope to the Japanese people.”
When the Japanese women’s football team won the World Cup final, they won more than a game. They defeated sadness and loss. They won courage and hope for their country. It was so much more than a football game. It was a victory for Japan’s spirit.
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