TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese soccer fans were left wiping away Monday morning tears in Tokyo sports bars as their beloved 'Nadeshiko' were smashed 5-2 by the United States in the Women's World Cup final in Vancouver.
Supporters had gathered early for the 8 a.m. kick-off, hopeful of seeing Japan retain the title won four years ago against the same opponents, but the dream quickly became a nightmare as the U.S. raced to a 4-0 lead inside 16 minutes.
Japanese fans at the downtown Tokyo sports bar, Estadio, booed and some broke down in tears as the Japanese backline disintegrated.
Yuki Ogimi did pull one goal back for Japan in the 27th minute to loud cheers in Tokyo, where fans sensed the most unlikely of comebacks.
Those hopes grew further when Julie Johnston turned into her own net to cut the deficit to 4-2 with more than 30 minutes to play but the Americans quickly put the game beyond doubt with a fifth goal two minutes later.
The Japanese team, though, won praise for fighting back from such a woeful start and not collapsing like Brazil had in the semi-finals of the men's World Cup last year when they were walloped 7-1 by Germany.
"I'm sad but that one goal was fantastic. They didn't lose without scoring, and I think that showed Japan's resilience, which was fantastic," 38-year old Tokyo resident Naomi Ushimi told Reuters TV as she wiped away tears.
The loss of the world title was sorely felt but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the women had proven role models for the rest of the country.
"Japan's Nadeshiko were runner's up for Women's World Cup. They went to the final two consecutive times and they united to play hard till the end. They gave courage to the Japanese people," Abe posted on Twitter.
Japan won't have to wait four years for revenge with the Olympics only a year away in Brazil.
The Nadeshiko, who lifted the Asian Cup title last year for the first time, were silver medallists in London in 2012 after losing to the U.S. in the final.
Their impressive run of results and emergence as a world power drew plaudits from the men's team, who endured a dismal group stage exit at last year's World Cup after talking up their chances of making the last eight for the first time.
"They always provide a dream," men's striker Shinji Okazaki told Kyodo News.
"The fact that they got to the final shows how strong they are. We (the men) must learn from them."
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien