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A reason to celebrate in quake-stricken Japan

By Arata Yamamoto, NBC News 

After more than two hours of a grueling, see-saw battle which throughly tested the the strength of the two World Cup finalists, 20-year-old Saki Kumagai's tie-breaking penalty goal woke a sleepy nation still coping with the devastation brought by the March earthquake and tsunami.

"I just put everything I had in that kick," said Kumagai. "I'm thrilled it made the game."

Despite the match being televised during the wee hours of the morning here in Japan, millions tuned in to watch Nadeshiko Japan, nicknamed after the term Yamato Nadeshiko, which personifies the idealized, graceful Japanese woman.

The father of the forward striker Nahomi Kawasumi, reached on the phone by public broadcaster NHK, said, "There are no need for any words; when I see her I'm just going to make eye contact and tell her she did an amazing job."

The grandfather of defender Azusa Iwashimuzu, Susumu, chimed in, "I feel like climbing the sky."

Many expected the finals to be tough and brutal. Not only are the Americans ranked first in FIFA's world ranking, but until today, Japan had never won any of its 24 meetings against the United States.

Even during this final match, Japan was behind twice, only to catch up 2-2 on Homare Sawa's tying goal with only few minutes left in overtime.

Top scorer for the team and the tournament's MVP who has played in four previous World Cups, Sawa said after the match, "After five tournaments, we've finally been able to carve out a result. We thank everyone in Japan who supported us and we're bringing home the gold medal!"

That's exactly what people in Japan will be eagerly waiting for. Four months since the devastating earthquake struck northern Japan, killing more 15,000 people, there are still more than 5,000 missing and nearly 10,000 displaced.

Add the continued problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and the political mess that is expected to bring yet another resignation from a prime minister for his poor handling of the crisis,  this soccer victory is a much-needed cause for jubilation in a country that could use some up-lifting news.

"If we were able to inspire kids by having them watch us play, that, I think is great"  said mid-fielder Kozue Ando.