Japan's championship victory in the 2011 Women's World Cup proved once again that a sport is not simply just a game.
Twice the Japanese came back in the clutch when the game was on the line. After the United States scored on an Alex Morgan goal in the 69th minute, the Japanese answered right back 12 minutes later with a goal of their own. Although the U.S. dominated the entire game, Japan was not going away quietly.
In the 104th minute, shortly before the end of the first set of extra time, Abby Wambach put in a beautiful header set up by Morgan to give the United States the lead once again.
As she celebrated her goal, Wambach was more casual then she had been in previous goals scored. There was no adrenaline slide in the corner with her teammates mobbing her. She ran with a controlled fist pump and a determined look in her eyes. It was almost as if she knew the Japanese were going to come back.
And they did.
In the 117th minute of play, Japan's Homare Sawa tied it up at two, shortly before extra time ended.
As the game went into penalty kicks, there was a sense of determination on the Japanese side. Not only were they playing for a championship, they were playing for an entire country. A country that was devastated by a life-shattering earthquake four months ago.
Playing with heavy hearts and overwhelming courage, the Japanese knew that victory was in their grasp.
The United States missed their first three penalty kicks, and it felt as if Japan was destined to win it. They were the smallest team in the entire tournament, yet they played like warriors.
On their way to the final, they beat two-time defending World Cup champs Germany in the quarterfinal match and took down the heavily-favored Swedish team in the semis. Entering the championship match as an underdog once again, the scrappy Japanese team proved that the United States was not the only nation capable of a monumental comeback.
With their first World Cup championship, Japan proved that sports can unite a nation. They never gave up in the final and proved how resilient they were as a team, as well as a country.
As for the United States, the agony of defeat is one that will sting for a long time. They dominated the entire game, but they could not capitalize on their chances. They came out of the gates hot, but Japan finished hotter.
The 2011 World Cup turned American players like Abby Wambach and Hope Solo into household names. With young talent on the horizon, including Diamond Bar, California native Alex Morgan, the United States is sure to continue as a juggernaut in women's soccer.
Congratulations to Japan on their World Cup championship. The better team won, and they overcame the obstacles that were thrown a them. Obstacles that were on a deeper level than just sports.
The United States played a phenomenal game as well. They took the loss with dignity and respect, and although they did not hoist the World Cup, they gained a life lesson in what it really means to be part of a team.
Although at the end of this World Cup, the U.S. will not be partying like it's 1999.