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Win gives Japan break from sadness

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

TOKYO » Japan took a welcome break from months of tragedy today, basking in its unlikely victory over the United States in the Women's World Cup final.

Joyous fans decked out in the national team's dark blue uniforms hugged and sang in Tokyo as they watched their team lift the winner's trophy on live broadcasts from Germany.

It was a rare moment of joy for the Japan, which is still recovering from a killer earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11 and devastated its northeast coast. The disasters left nearly 23,000 dead or missing and caused an ongoing crisis at a nuclear power plant.

"This is a chance to forget the nuclear disaster and everything else, to just to unite and celebrate," said 22-year-old Toru Komatsu.

Japan became the first Asian nation to win the Women's World Cup, beating the U.S. 3-1 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw. The team, small in stature compared to the Americans, fell behind twice but battled back to tie both times, their final goal coming with just 3 minutes left in extra time.

Bars and restaurants that showed the game in central Tokyo were packed for the kickoff at 3:45 a.m. local time Monday — a national holiday. At some venues dozens of fans stood outside in the street and peered in through the windows of crowded establishments.

After the victory, some chanting fans spilled into the Tokyo streets. In Shibuya, a neighborhood known for its youth pop culture, dozens of police kept a small group of boisterous fans from wandering out into traffic.

Special edition newspapers proclaiming the victory were printed by the national papers and handed out to pedestrians this morning, while scenes from the game were replayed constantly on television.

The women's side goes by the name "Nadeshiko," after a mountain flower thought to be a symbol of femininity in traditional Japanese culture. But some said the players defied traditional roles with their playing style.

"This shows that Japanese women are strong," said 32-year-old Rui Hayashi, who works at a men's club in Tokyo.

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