A highly successful Women’s World Cup reaches its climax this Sunday as former winners and favourites USA take on Japan.
The month-long finals, hosted by Germany, have been lauded for the excitement of games, high attendances and boost they have given to women’s football globally.
Boost for Japan
Japan have never defeated the US in 25 matches, drawing only three of those contests. Known as Nadeshiko – or beautiful flower in Japanese – the women's national team has been the underdog throughout this year's tournament.
Regardless of the result, Japan's surprise progress in Germany is a much-needed boost for a country recently devastated by massive earthquake tremors and a tsunami.
Nahomi Kawasumi, who scored twice on her full debut against the Swedes, said: “Our results here in Germany have given us a lot of confidence. We have momentum and now we want to try and beat the US.”
With a fourth-place finish at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and a recent climb into the top five of the Fifa women's world rankings, Japan are a team on the rise.
Beating the Americans – champions in 1991 and 1999, with third-place finishes in 1995, 2003 and 2007 – will be a tough task, but midfielder Kawasumi insisted Japan's “strong mentality and teamwork” will pose problems for the US in the final.
Regardless of the result, she is hoping Japan's exploits in Germany will inspire a new generation of female footballers at home.
Opportunity to promote women’s football
“Normally, we don't have a lot of media coverage for women's football in Japan, but when we have good results such as here in Germany or at the Olympics, people get to know about women's football.
“It is an important opportunity to promote the team and the game.
“I was inspired very much by previous national team players which, in part, is why I am here in Germany. I would be very happy if I too could be a role model for young players in Japan.”
The semi-final matches at the finals were dedicated to the fight against all forms of discrimination, social injustice and racism.
Prior to the national anthems, each of the captains read out a declaration addressed to all players, officials and fans around the world, urging them to act against all forms of discrimination, with the teams and match officials posing together behind a banner bearing the unmistakable message: 'No to racism'.