Nobody could have felt the contrast between boundless joy and profound disappointment more keenly than Saki Kumagai on Thursday evening in Wembley Stadium. In the Final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, the Japanese defender scored the Nadeshiko’s last penalty in the shoot-out against USA and became an instant heroine.
However, this time she was powerless to stop the North Americans winning 2-1 in the final of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Just 13 months, but a world of difference, separate the two occasions.
“I have to say, the joy last year was greater than the disappointment this year,” Kumagai told FIFA.com. “Especially for me, as it was really something special last time. Apart from that, we’ve won an Olympic silver medal here in London after all.”
Nonetheless, the 21-year-old FFC Frankfurt player was visibly frustrated and deflated. Japan missed several presentable chances against USA, hit the woodwork on more than one occasion and dominated for large periods with their swift, short-passing game.
“Today we actually played even better than we did in the World Cup Final in Frankfurt last year, and we won then," said Kumagai. "It’s just a shame that we weren’t more clinical in front of goal.
“You have to admit that USA were very strong, but we had actually managed to assert the Japanese style on the game,” Kumagai added. “The only difference was that they took their chances better than we did.” Indeed, the Stars and Stripes' Carli Lloyd was particularly clinical, netting both her side's goals to emerge as the woman of the hour.
Yet the diminutive defender is already looking to the future optimistically, as the Nadeshiko’s recent achievements will not be easily forgotten. “We’ve been getting increasingly more attention over the last 13 months. The fact that after winning the World Cup we’ve now got a medal is unbelievably important for the popularity of women’s football in Japan.”
The dust is barely starting to settle on the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, but Kumagai is already eagerly eyeing future success: “My first aim is to win the league with Frankfurt. But longer-term we really want to successfully defend our world title at Canada 2015.”
Such an attitude epitomises this Japan team and they will surely return to the global stage with even greater desire come the next major competition. After all, despite this disappointment, they remain the reigning world champions.