Sports are full of storybook and awe inspiring moments, but perhaps none bigger than the story around the 2011 Women’s Japanese soccer team that took part in the World Cup. Here I will talk about their thrilling journey at the tournament, as well as what makes it so insane and inspiring.
To really understand and appreciate what this Japanese team did and how inspiring it was, we have to take a look back at the horrific earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan in 2011. A 9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of Japan, which led to a horrible tsunami to hit the shore with waves over 100 feet tall. This earthquake was the most powerful to ever hit Japan and the fourth most powerful in the history of the recorded world. The tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and led to a massive $235 billion dollar economic cost to the World Bank, which made it the costliest natural disaster in history.
After an event like this, the morale of the country was understandably low and the nation was going through one of its worst periods since World War 2. But, life had to go on as normal, which meant the women’s soccer team from Japan would still take part in the 2011 Women’s World cup, which took place only a few months after the horrible disaster.
Leading up to this World Cup, the Japanese team was nothing special as they had fairly modest performances at the 2003 and 2007 World cups. In both of those events, they lost out in the group stages. With emotions running high due to the tsunami (and the country needing something to rally around and be positive about) the pressure on the Japanese team to perform was huge.
They already exceeded their performance in the previous two World Cups by finishing second in their group (behind England) and moving on in the tournament. But the magical journey didn’t stop there. Their next match was against defending champion and the host nation of Germany. But despite being big underdogs, the Japanese came away with a victory in extra time.
Their next game was an easy 3-1 over Sweden that set them up for a final game against the number one ranked team in the world, the United States. The game was very evenly matched as the teams traded goals back and forth. Ultimately, extra time solved nothing and the teams needed penalties to decide the champion. And in a shock to the sports world, The Japanese team came out on top, being the first ever Asian team to win the World Cup and also the first Asian team to ever win a senior FIFA title.
The heart and perseverance these women showed throughout the competition inspired millions in Japan and finally gave them something to cheer and be happy about after months of grief. When their country needed them the most, these ladies delivered.