Japan's biggest win
WOLFSBURG, Germany -- Late Saturday night a German journalist asked Homare Sawa if Japan's quarterfinal victory over Germany was the biggest of her long career.
Japan's veteran midfielder and captain listened for the translation into the headset, nodded and gave a wry smile.
"Yes, so far."
Even bigger wins could be in store for the Japanese team, which stunned the world Saturday with its 1-0 win over the tournament host, Germany.
"I have always wanted to beat Germany, and to do it at the world championship makes me very happy," Sawa said.
Sawa, FIFA's player of the match, did not score the goal that led to the biggest upset in the history of the Women's World Cup -- that was substitute Karina Maruyama, who angled a shot into the back of the net in the 108th minute, the latest goal in a Women's World Cup game.
But it was Sawa who delivered the perfect pass in space, minutes after leaving the field on a stretcher with what appeared to be a groin injury and then returning to the game.< /p>
"It was 120 minutes and I just had to play," said Sawa, who walked gingerly into the post-match press conference. "You're very tired, but the ball comes and you react."
For all the games she's played, she has never played in one bigger than Wednesday's semifinal in Frankfurt against Sweden, which defeated Australia 3-1 on Sunday.
Sawa, playing in her fifth World Cup tournament, had never beaten Germany in her career. While her on-field celebration was muted, in the locker room, she admitted, "I cried for all the joy."
Since Japan last lost to Germany at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Japanese coach Norio Sasaki said his team has aimed to improve in this tournament and be able to play with the world's elite teams. The Japanese came into the tournament ranked No. 4 in the world.
Led by Sawa, Japan has accomplished just that by taking down the World Cup favorites. The team is both tactically sound and tenacious.
Sawa and Sasaki pointed out that it was the Germans, the host team with designs on winning a third-straight World Cup, who played with all the pressure. And as the game went on without a goal for the German side, despite a multitude of chances, that pressure mounted.
The Japanese, who had never beaten Germany before, don't carry that kind of burden in this tournament. They do, however, carry a banner that reads "To our friends around the world -- thank you for your support."
They have brought it out after every match as a sign of deep gratitude to all who supported their country following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.
The Japanese players hope that their success in Germany will bring some consolation to those who are still suffering back at home.