Japan’s women’s team celebrate their first win over the USA in 26 attempts (Getty)

(WFI) Asian Football Confederation acting president Zhang Jilong praises Japan’s monumental efforts in winning the Women’s World Cup in Germany.

The ‘Nadeshiko’ beat the USA 3-1 in a dramatic penalty shootout after extra-time finished 2-2, becoming become the first Asian country to land the World Cup crown. A capacity crowd of 48,817 watched the final in Frankfurt.

Their shock win over the favourites came just six months after Japan’s men secured a record fourth Asian Cup title.

“This is a great day for Asian football,” Jilong told the AFC.com.

“The ‘Nadeshiko’ have made us all immensely proud. They have shown what is possible if one has the resolve, determination and persistence.”

“This is the biggest possible boost to women’s football in our continent and other member associations should try to emulate Japan’s example,” said Jilong, extending his congratulations to the Japanese FA, the team’s coach Norio Sasaki and the victorious World Cup squad.

Japanese FA president Junji Ogura expressed his delight at the victory, a major dose of good news for the country following the devastating March earthquake.

“There is no happier president than a World Cup winner,” he was quoted by Reuters after the match. “The players demonstrated the wonders of Japanese women.”

Sasaki was full of praise for his side who twice came from behind in the match that was dominated by the USA to take the game to penalties. Saki Kumagai slotted home the winning penalty after Ayumi Kaihori’s heroics in the Japan goal, saving two out of three American spot-kicks.

The final minutes of the match broke Twitter record, as the most tweeted event in its five-year history. In the dramatic closing minutes of extra-time and penalties, the social networking site recorded 7,196 tweets per second.

“Our players played with great patience and did a good job,” Sasaki told the Japanese FA’s website.

“The United States played a wonderful possession game with sharp attacking power that made it hard to play our style of football.

“But our players played really tenaciously to the end, just like they did against Germany.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter congratulated Japan and USA for a “thrilling” final, claiming the tournament as a whole had promoted women’s football in the best possible way.

FIFA’s Player of the Tournament was Japan captain Homare Sawa, who scored three minutes from the end of extra time to keep her team in the match. It was her fifth goal of the competition.

Making her fifth World Cup appearance, Sawa won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball (the tournament’s most valuable player) on Sunday.

“I cannot believe this,” the 32-year-old was quoted on the AFC.com. “We never gave up and played until the last minute, I just kept running until the last moment. We have given all we had. “I have always aimed to become world number one and it is hard to believe this is real, but I feel happy.”

USA rue missed chances; boost for American league?
USA’s head coach Pia Sundhage was disappointed her team squandered so many chances; the USA’s goals came from Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. But the Americans had 27 shots on goal compared to Japan’s 14.

“First of all, I give credit to the players for playing good soccer. They kept possession better than in the other games we played. But we couldn’t put away our chances. It’s a final. There is a small difference between winning and losing,” she was quoted on USsoccer.com.

Commenting on on what the tournament means to women’s football worldwide, Sundhage said: “I would like to take the opportunity to credit Germany with putting on a wonderful tournament.

“I think in the women’s game now we have different standards moving forward. This has been phenomenal, even though we didn’t win.”

Whether the USA’s performance at the World Cup will help boost TV interest and attendances in Women’s Professional Soccer, the US league now in its third season, is another matter. It didn’t happen after the USA’s 1999 World Cup triumph.

But with all but one of the USA’s World Cup squad plying their trade in the WPS, league officials will be looking to leverage the popularity of the country’s Germany 2011 stars to increase attendances through the rest of this season.
Average crowds in the six-team league are just 3,500.

Blatter looks ahead to Canada 2015
Sepp Blatter said the tournament had been well-organised, singling out the passion of German fans for particular praise even after their team had exited at the quarter-finals stage.

“The crowds kept on coming. And from an international point of view, especially on TV, viewers have suddenly seen new teams. Women’s football has become more global,” he told a press conference on the eve of the final.

He said the football on display was “exciting and very good, although you should never compare it to the men’s version.

“All 16 teams showed there aren’t any weak teams any more, which is why we’ll start with 24 teams at the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Now is the right time to go from 16 to 24 teams, and that’ll open new markets for women’s football,” he added.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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