FRANKFURT, Germany – World Cup hero Homare Sawa paid a moving and emotional tribute to the victims and survivors of the Japan tsunami and dedicated her team's incredible tournament triumph to them.
Sawa captained Japan to its finest soccer hour, twice coming from behind to level the final against the United States before winning a nerve-jangling penalty shootout.
With Japan's exploits being witnessed by tens of millions of patriotic fans back home, Sawa revealed that the plight of the side's countrymen had been a constant source of inspiration.
"We knew that what we were doing here could be about a little more than just a football tournament," Sawa said. "If winning this makes one person, someone who lost something or someone or was hurt or damaged by the events that touched our country, feel better for even one moment, then we have really achieved a most special thing.
"If it makes everyone happy and joyful and gives them a reason to cheer after such difficult times, then we have been successful.
"Japan has been hurt and so many lives have been affected. We can not change that but Japan is coming back and this was our chance to represent our nation and show that we never stop working. This is like a dream to us and we hope our country shares it with us."
Sawa was playing in her fifth World Cup and was the undisputed star of the tournament, winning the Golden Boot for top scorer and Golden Ball for best player.
If not for her sensational flicked goal with minutes of extra time remaining it would have been the USA, not Japan, celebrating victory.
Aya Miyama, the scorer of Japan's first goal which took the game into extra-time and levelled the score at 1-1, also sent a message of goodwill to her homeland.
"We wanted to fight for you and win for you and make you proud of us," Miyama said. "Japan wants to have a bright future and we wanted to show that if you believe in good things and are positive then wonderful things can happen. This is a wonderful day."
Japan came into the tournament ranked fourth in the world but was considered a long shot to win it all, with host nation Germany, Brazil and the USA all having stronger claims.
However, a quarterfinal win over Germany gave Japan a boost in confidence, and it rode its luck to pull off a major shock and take home the World Cup trophy.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• British Open's winners and losers
• Korean athletes' outlandish excuse for failed drug tests
• World's most valuable sports teams