Don’t think for a second that I was not distressed when the Japanese tied the game at 1-1. And even more so when the resilient Japanese women tied the U.S. again at 2-2 near the end of the extra time period. I was so impressed at how many Americans were totally into the FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament. People were talking about soccer (football in every other corner of the world) her in the U.S. in a way that was unprecedented.
But why did it have to be Japan? As hard as things have been in the United States for the past few years with an unemployment rate of 9+% (the real rate is probably closer to 12% or more), the tragedy in the land of the rising sun was a human tragedy of epic proportions. Add to the fact that the Japanese economy has been in steep decline for many years and it becomes painfully apparent that the Japanese have had little to cheer about for a very long time.
I am convinced the emotional boost a World Cup soccer championship gave the Japanese far exceeded anything the United States could have experienced. The residual effects of the March tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster cannot be underplayed. Japan will be dealing with the fallout (ok bad analogy) for many years to come.
As I watched the game I was totally focused on the American women, their talent, spirit and commitment that made them – to me – the best team in the world. Only it didn’t work out that way. As the game wore on there were signs that for whatever reason this might be Japan’s day. I did not think about that as I was rooting for the home team to bring home the championship. But when the Americans missed their first penalty shot in the shootout I began to really contemplate the idea that the Japanese might win and what that might meant to Japan.
After the second U.S shot went over the goal I came to grips with the idea that the U.S. would lose and Japan was going to win. For some reason as disappointing as that was I began to look at it from the perspective of a broken nation having something wonderful to cheer about when it needed it the most.
When it was all over we all watched the Japanese women celebrate while their American counterparts looked shocked, dejected and disappointed. However the American women showed their usual class led by its star Abby Wambach who walked right into the Japanese celebration to congratulate the winners as did her teammates.
In no way am I happy that the U.S. lost the World Cup final to Japan but if we had to lose I am content that the nation that needed a victory the most at this time earned a well fought and well played moment that their country sorely needed. Congratulations to Japan. And to the U.S. women – thanks for an exciting ride. We’ll be back. And I will be watching.