FRANKFURT, July 18, 2011 (AFP) - Thousands of Germans cheered Japan to their first women's World Cup victory Sunday, with the host country's fans saying that since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, "we are all a little Japanese."
A 500-metre (yard) "fan mile" on the Main River in Germany's financial capital was packed with supporters of both Japan and the United States, with many of the latter decked out in flags and face paint.
But a solid groundswell of support accompanied each Japanese advance on the US goal, and when they equalized at 2-2 in overtime the crowd went wild.
|AFP - USA's goalkeeper Hope Solo fails to save the ball during the final match Japan vs USA on July 17, 2011 in Frankfurt am Main|
Referring to terror attacks against the US nearly 10 years ago, business teacher Frank Forster summed up the general feeling when he said: "After 9/11 we were all a little American, since Fukushima we are all a little Japanese."
Among those rooting for the winners on the river's chilly and damp left bank was Lissa Meinberg, 17, a Frankfurt student who is half Japanese, half German and who spent the match wrapped in a Japanese flag and her boyfriend's arms.
"The better team will win," was her nervous forecast when it seemed the US side was dominating.
Tetsuya Yoshida, 39, a local employee of All Nippon Airways, was equally reserved in a "Japanese quarter" of fans whose sober attire contrasted with the red, white and blue that many US supporters sported.
"The last two games I was very excited," he said in reference to Japanese wins over Germany and Sweden that led to them playing the US in their first final ever.
"Today I will enjoy the match and maybe afterwards" drink a beer, he implied with a smile and the gesture of lifting a beer stein.
"We believe the Japanese can win," Yoshida concluded quietly and with conviction.
The team did just that, taking the match into overtime and then to a penalty shoot-out as night fell over Frankfurt's North American-style skyline.
The city has a history of hosting women's football, albeit with interruptions, that dates back to 1930, and it splashed out on an open-air viewing area with screens floating in the river and three stages for warm-up acts.
Food from many nations was available along with hot drinks, beer and apple wine, a local specialty, and a rockabilly group that played on Sunday brought fans of its own who left before the match started.
Michael Boulin, 42, a history teacher in Berlin who is from the US state of Connecticut, found the atmosphere "fantastic, though it could be a little warmer."
"The Germans have been incredible hosts," added Boulin, whose wife Anja was painting passers-by that asked to benefit from her expert touch.
Asked how he would feel if the Japanese pulled off a historic win after 25 defeats to the Americans, Boulin's friend Gerald Zaplawa, a fellow teacher at the JFK School in Berlin, insisted the party would go on.
"I will still be out here celebrating with them," the native Coloradan promised.
A little later, Weinberg and her boyfriend were in seventh heaven after the Japanese nailed victory by winning the penalty shoot-out 3-1.
Searching for words to describe the moment, the Japanese-German student said simply: "It's crazy."