TOKYO • Japanese football fans were left wiping away Monday morning tears in Tokyo sports bars as their beloved women's national team - the Nadeshiko - were smashed 5-2 by the United States in the Women's World Cup final.
Supporters had gathered early for the 8am 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 US raced to a 4-0 lead inside 16 minutes.
Some broke down in tears as the Japanese backline disintegrated.
The Japanese team did pull two goals back although their opponents made sure of their victory by scoring a fifth time.
Still, they 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... they didn't lose without scoring and I think that showed Japan's resilience, which was fantastic," 38-year old Tokyo resident Naomi Ushimi said as she wiped away her tears.
The loss of the world title was sorely felt but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the women had proven role models for the rest of the folks in the country.
"Japan's Nadeshiko were runners-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," he posted on Twitter.
In contrast, as the Americans partied like it was 1999 - the last time they won the World Cup - US President Barack Obama hailed their triumph and invited them to the White House minutes after their crushing win over Japan.
"What a win for Team USA! Great game Carli Lloyd!
"Your country is so proud of all of you," he tweeted, hailing the player's three-goal performance.
"Come visit the White House with the World Cup soon."
The Americans' progress to the final in the tournament had galvanised supporters back home.
The US triumph over Germany in the semi-finals was the third most-watched women's football match with some 8.4 million viewers. The figure trailed only those in the USA-China final in 1999 and the USA-Japan final in 2011, according to US Soccer.
"It was an awesome game," fan Tom Zeman told the Chicago television station WLS. "So much fun. So much fun to watch."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE