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Japan's women scoop football treble

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
updated 3:48 AM EST, Tue January 10, 2012
Homare Sawa (left) receives the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award from Colombian singer Shakira.
Homare Sawa (left) receives the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award from Colombian singer Shakira.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Japan captain Homare Sawa is crowned FIFA Women's World Player of the Year
  • Norio Sasaki is named coach of the year, while Japan's FA takes Fair Play award
  • Japan's World Cup win lauded after devastation of March 11 earthquake and tsunami
  • Japan beat favorites the United States in the World Cup final in Germany in July

(CNN) -- Almost six months after Japan's women gave the country a much-needed boost by winning the football World Cup, the team was again celebrating after scooping a hat-trick of prestigious awards.

At a ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland late Monday, Homare Sawa was crowned FIFA Women's World Player of the Year after she captained Japan to the Women's World Cup title in Germany, while her manager Norio Sasaki was named coach of the year.

"I couldn't comprehend it when my name was called," Sawa told reporters Tuesday.

"I felt like I was in a dream, just like the World Cup. There are so many great players out there. It was an unimaginable moment, walking up to the podium, being among all those people."

Japan's Football Association also picked up the FIFA Fair Play Award in recognition of the hardships the country endured following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated large parts of Japan on March 11 last year.

Team skipper Sawa, dressed in a traditional kimono, was joined on stage by JFA president Junji Ogura to receive the accolade.

"It's a great honor for JFA to receive such a prestigious award from FIFA," said Ogura. "We will do our best to continue to prepare in our activities. We are very proud in this award."

It was an unimaginable moment, walking up to the podium, being among all those people
Homare Sawa

Japan's surprise victory in Germany in July last year denied the much-fancied U.S. team a record third title. They even battled back twice after going a goal behind.

But even as the team progressed through the competition against the odds, it became about more than just football or a trophy. Their exploits were inspiring a country that had suffered so much.

"After the disaster, the whole country was in the spirit of trying their best. What we saw was the soul of Japan," one fan, Yasushi Tsuha, told CNN after watching the match at a Tokyo bar.

Despite the fact the game kicked off at almost 4 a.m. local time, men and women flocked to watch the game. By the end of the epic clash, there were few dry eyes in the bar as the victorious Japanese players lifted the World Cup trophy for the first time.

They were overcome with emotion and pride in a team that few knew anything about before this competition.

"When I see women like me giving so much spirit, it gives me energy to keep going in my daily life," said another fan Ayako Nishi.

The national team left Japan bound for the tournament with little fanfare. A month later, they were swamped by jubilant fans as they arrived back at Tokyo's Narita airport as national heroes.

Their success looks likely to continue in 2012, after the Nadeshiko qualified comfortably for the Olympic Games in London later this summer.

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