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Japan honours women’s football squad

TOKYO, Japan, August 2- Japan said Tuesday it would honour its World Cup-winning women’s footballers as people’s heroes, praising them for helping to restore the nation’s spirits after its massive quake-tsunami disaster.

The squad members, who last month beat favourites the United States, were named recipients of the “People’s Honour Award”, previously won by the likes of baseball home-run king Sadaharu Oh and legendary film director Akira Kurosawa.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government will decorate the team at a ceremony on August 18 after they beat two-time champions the United States to win the first football World Cup title for Asia.

The victory by the team, nicknamed “Nadeshiko” after a pink flower seen in Japan as a symbol of beauty, helped lift the country following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

“Nadeshiko Japan has given fresh inspiration to the people with its never-yielding, dedicated attitude,” Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary of embattled premier Kan, told reporters as he announced the awarding.

The award, created in 1977 to honour figures who have given “bright hope” to the people, has been presented to 18 individuals in the sporting and entertainment worlds, but never before to a group.

The Nadeshiko upset holders and hosts Germany and swept aside Sweden on their way to a penalty shootout win over the United States two weeks ago.

Turnout at matches in Japan’s long-ignored women’s football league has since ballooned from an average 800 earlier in the season.

A record 21,000 spectators flocked to a match on Sunday involving the table-topping INAC Kobe, led by Nadeshiko captain Homare Sawa who won the title of the World Cup’s most valuable player with a tournament-high five goals.

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A market research firm has estimated the economic spin-off effects of the World Cup victory at more than one trillion yen ($13 billion), including sales of uniforms, accessories, books and other related goods.

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