Japan defeated Sweden today, 3-1, and will be making it's first appearance in a World Cup Final. They will meet the United States who, earlier, overwhelmed France late and won 3-1 on a rain-slicked field.
It's hard for the world to not root for the big underdogs from Japan, especially after the Japanese players once again unfurled a huge banner after the match that read, "To Our Friends Around the World; Thank You For Your Support," which refers to the world-wide outpouring of aid after the the March 11 tsunami and earthquake that left 23,000 people dead or missing.
The U.S. team hopes to win their first World Cup title since 1999 when they defeated China.
The Japanese just want to bring hope home.
Japan has a tough road to victory and is 0-22-3 all-time against the U.S.. They lost three games this spring against the same squad of U.S. players.
The Japanese team shocked Germany earlier in the tournament before beating perennial women's soccer power Sweden today. It is a totally different collection of players who played that series vs. the U.S.. Japan was devastated by the disaster and the the team did not practice for weeks before those games.
Sunday's final will pit the finesse of Japan against the tenacity of the U.S.
Japan's game is filled with fine-tuned trapping and passing while the Americans are bigger and more athletic.
The U.S. team is led by sure-handed goaltender, Hope Solo, and striker Abby Wambach-- who has headed in go ahead goals against both Sweden and France.
Japan is filled with interchangeable players who can frustrate an opponent with their trademark short-passing and unselfish play. Nahomi Kawasumi scored two goals today after getting a surprise start.
Wambach, even after the U.S. victory, thought France"outplayed" her team today.
"In the end, we're in the finals," she boasted.
The Japanese team is playing for a lot more than the title. Respect is such an important aspect of Japanese society and the team representing their country has already earned so much of it on an international stage. Now they just want to bring some happiness back to their recovering homeland.
Before the game against favored Germany, Japan's coach Norio Sasaki, showed the team photographs of the victims and the devastation of the tsunami and earthquake to inspire them. He didn't do it today and probably won't do it on Sunday.
The Japanese team already has those horrible images in their heads to push them on.
It's hard not to want to see the Japanese women unfurl that banner in Frankfurt on Sunday and thank the world once again...this time holding the World Cup Championship trophy.