TOKYO, Japan – Thousands of joyous, flag-waving fans greeted the Japan women's football team as the players arrived home Tuesday morning after beating the United States in the World Cup final.
Two fire trucks shot out celebratory arches of water over the team's aircraft as it approached the terminal at Tokyo's Narita Airport.
Throngs of fans wearing the team's dark blue colors greeted the players as they made their way into the terminal
A nation reeling from months of tragedy has been united in joyous celebration after a team nicknamed ''Nadeshiko'' - for a pink mountain flower - became the first from Asia to win the biggest prize in women's football.
Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, one of the stars of Sunday's win, was the first to come through the terminal. The rest of the team, wearing their medals, followed as cameras flashed and fans shouted ''Omedeto Gozaimasu'' - or congratulations.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami left nearly 23,000 people dead or missing and caused partial meltdowns at a nuclear power plant that added to the tragedy.
Japan's players used the disasters as motivation throughout the tournament, viewing images of the devastation from their homeland before some matches.
Before the final, the team unfurled a banner reading ''To our Friends Around the World - Thank You for Your Support.''
Japan became the first Asian nation to win the Women's World Cup, beating the Americans in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw.
Everyone from Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to evacuees in the hardest-hit areas of the tragedy have praised the team for giving Japan inspiration in difficult times.