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The rise and stall of women’s football in Japan

Japan have played in the last two Women’s World Cup finals but the women’s game is still not fully embraced at home

By Philip Patrick for When Saturday Comes

England and Scotland are not the only sides worth watching in Group D at the Women’s World Cup. Japan, who kick off their tournament against Argentina in Paris on Monday evening, have played in the last two finals. The team are nicknamed “Nadeshiko” after a lacy, pink carnation that is found in the mountains of Japan and came to suggest an idealised vision of Japanese womanhood, suffering silently and gracefully in the cause of the nation. Although, the team’s success has given that word a new meaning.

Japan reached the last Women’s World Cup final in 2015, which they lost 5-2 to USA, but their finest hour came four years earlier against the same opponents in Frankfurt. Japan had not beaten USA in their previous 25 attempts before that final but, after a 2-2 draw, they defied all the odds and won the World Cup in a penalty shootout. That victory came just four months after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region and claimed 20,000 lives. No sporting story, however remarkable, could ever offset such a tragedy, but it was undeniably a welcome relief to a traumatised country.

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