Karina Maruyama scored the goal that eliminated holders and hosts Germany in 2011
It set Japan on course to beat Sweden and USA and win their first Women's World Cup
The former striker looks back on the personal impact of the goal and on Japanese women’s football
Former Japanese striker Karina Maruyama scored 14 goals in a 12-year international career. There was none more significant, however, than the goal against holders and hosts Germany in the quarter-final clash during the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™. "That goal was special to me," said Maruyama. "It belongs to the type of goals which change your life. In such an important tournament like the Women's World Cup, I felt that the goal I scored was not for me, but for all the people who support us in Japan. I felt a stronger desire to represent my country than ever before.”
The game itself, a decade ago today, has taken its place in FIFA Women’s World Cup history. A confident Germany side, defending their World Cup title and cheered on by an enthusiastic home crowd, were favourites to progress against a much less experienced Japanese side.
After a stalemate over the course of 90 minutes, the game headed into extra time. With Germany backed by a raucous home support, it was Murayama who settled the contest after collecting a pass from Homare Sawa and converting.
"When I was running down with the ball, I looked up and saw the goalkeeper," the 38-year-old told FIFA.com. "Usually I would have kicked it to the near side. But at that very moment a light flashed through my mind and I opted to shoot at the far side instead. Then I realised that my team-mates were running up to me to celebrate and the entire stadium was silent."
Silvia Neid's home side threw everything forward in the remaining minutes as they tried in vain for an equaliser. Japan stood firm under intense pressure to cause one of the tournament’s upsets.
"We had never defeated Germany [before that match],” said Maruyama. “So the victory, in a sense, gave us momentum going into our next games." The win propelled them into the semi-finals where they beat Sweden 3-1 before then defeating a much celebrated USA side on penalties in a fairytale Final.
The success was not in isolation. Japan had been devastated just months earlier when an earthquake claimed the lives of at least 20,000 people, with many more casualties. Up to 500,000 people were forced to flee their homes with the devastation uppermost in the minds of the players as they played in the World Cup Final.
"During that period, I was [emotional],” said Maruyama. “In the pre-match meeting, we watched the video of the disaster again and I cried. I thought what we could do was to play with all our might, control our feelings and do our best for our people.
"The team were so connected to each other. We were thinking of each other. We wanted to do what we could to support the team - everyone, both the starting players and substitutes."
Underpinning their determination to win was the style in which they played.
"I think we performed well both physically and technically,” said the former striker. “Particularly, we were a team that built attacks through passing. I think the passing game has become the world's trend today."
Returning home as the newly-crowned Women's World Cup champions, they received plaudits and congratulations as the country celebrated and shared their triumph. The knock-on effect from their victory was to raise the profile of the women’s game in Japan to the extent that it is now among the most popular sports in the country.
"The biggest thing for us was that the women's game has become important for Japanese people. Women’s football is now a career which more and more girls can pursue."
With the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 just around the corner, Maruyama, who won the silver with Japan at London 2012, voiced her hopes for the current squad.
"I am jealous of the current team because they will play on home soil this time around," said Maruyama, who is now involved in the coaching and development of young players. "The time has come for Nadeshiko Japan to win a medal in front of their own supporters. I think they can do it."