Japan's dream comes true as Nadeshiko reach final

FRANKFURT, Germany, July 14, 2011 (AFP) - Japan coach Norio Sasaki insisted reaching the women's World Cup final is a dream come true for his team who are getting huge attention back home after their 3-1 semi-final win over Sweden.

AFP - Japan's players celebrate after they beat Sweden in Frankfurt

Japan are in a World Cup final for the first time in their history as striker Nahomi Kawasumi netted goals either side of half-time while captain Homare Sawa capped another impressive display with her fourth goal in five games.

There was no hint of the Japanese domination to come when Sweden striker Josefine Oqvist opened the scoring when she drilled home her shot after 10 minutes, but it was one-way traffic after.

Despite the nickname Nadeshiko -- a pink flower symbolising beauty and grace -- the Japanese are the giant-killers of Germany 2011 having already beaten the hosts in the quarter-finals and slayed Sweden by nullifying their attack.

Japan, ranked fourth in the world, face two-time World Cup winners the USA, ranked number one, in Sunday's final and television schedules were hastily re-arranged back home to televise the semi-final live.

Women's football has even temporarily replaced national favourites sumo wrestling and baseball on the back -- and front pages -- of Japanese newspapers.

Just four months after the earthquake and tsunami which devastated the north-east of the country, Sasaki says the historic win would help his countrymen still recovering after the disaster.

"In Japan, there has been a lot of press coverage and the game tonight was broadcast live. A lot of people in the media have been talking about our team," he said.

"That is very good for Japan, we are still recovering. There were so many victims in the area which was devastated and even little things like a win can give people courage and hope.

"In the final, we won't worry about the result, we will just focus on the performance."

Having stunned hosts Germany in the quarter-finals, Sasaki said his side have already had some practice of the pressure they will face in the final in Frankfurt having never beaten the Stars and Stripes before.

"The game against Germany was almost like playing the final, from our point of view, in terms of pressure and expectation, so the actual final will be the same thing," he said having lost to the USA twice this year in friendlies.

"I think the two matches will be the same, Germany were under a lot of pressure, now we will play the USA in the final, we lost to them a month before the World Cup, but we learned a lot in that game.

"This is a huge opportunity and this will be a big platform for us, I am happy the team has come so far, I am excited about this game."

Much was made about the height of the Japanese players before the game -- defender Saki Kumagai is the only member of their squad over 1.70m tall -- but the Nadeshiko are having no problems knocking over some European giants.

Having seen his team out-played -- Japan enjoyed 60 percent ball possession and allowed the Swedes just four shots on goal all game -- Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby said Japan can cause the USA lots of problems.

"They are a great group of players, they put in good crosses and have plenty of ball control, they will be very dangerous for the USA too," he said.

"As everyone saw, the Japanese were the better team.

"It was really just the first 30 minutes that we were in the game. It was a tough match for us."

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