Heroes’ welcome for victorious Japan

Japan’s winning FIFA Women’s World Cup team has received thanks from the nation’s prime minister upon their return home.The players and coaching staff flew into Narita International Airport after beating the United States 3-1 on penalties in the final in Frankfurt, Germany on Sunday.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan thanked the side as the nation continues to recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck in March.

“This has given the whole nation – but especially those in the disaster-affected north – courage, and I would like to thank them deeply from the bottom of my heart for this,” he said.

The players and staff met the Prime Minister and presented him with a signed jersey at the airport.

Coach Norio Sasaki said it was a huge achievement for his team, who became the first Asian nation to win the competition.

“I think the fact that they are here and invited by the prime minister is a reminder of what they have done,” he said.

“They have, for the first time in the history of women’s soccer in this nation, given so much courage and touched so many people – that is why they are here.”

Next up for Japan is the final stages of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in September, when they will meet China, North Korea, South Korea, Thailand and Australia.