Women’s World Cup: U.S. vs. Japan: Victory on penalty kicks earns Japan title
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The most dramatic Women’s World Cup final in history has produced the most surprising champion.
Japan twice came from behind to tie the score, first in regulation and then in extra time, and then went on to win the penalty shootout, 3-1, after a 2-2 tie in front of a sellout crowd in Frankfurt Germany.
The U.S. was trying to become the first three-time world champion.
Instead, Japan became the first Asian champion.
It was a deserved victory for the Japanese team, which never gave up, never quit trying, and in the end added another monumental achievement to its earlier feats of eliminating host and defending champion Germany in the quarterfinals and Sweden in the semifinals.
The result was even more meaningful because the Japanese team has ridden a wave of emotion brought about by the devastating March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in northern Japan that left tens of thousands dead or missing.
The final started out slowly, with the U.S. dominant in the first 45 minutes but unable to find the back of the net. It ended amid incredible scenes in Frankfurt, with the U.S. players and coaches looking stunned and the Japanese overcome by the moment.
The game was tied, 0-0, at halftime, but Alex Morgan, a 22-year-old from Diamond Bar, scored midway through the second half to put the U.S. ahead.
Taking down a long downfield pass by teammate Megan Rapinoe, she raced past three defenders and scored with a tremendous shot to give the American team the lead.
Morgan, the youngest of the U.S. players, was calmness itself as she unleashed a shot that found the bottom right corner of the Japanese net 69 minutes into the sold out final.
Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori threw herself at the shot but it was perfectly placed and she was unable to reach it.
Victory beckoned, but the drama had several more acts to go.
A nightmare defensive mistake by the U.S. gifted Japan the tying goal in the 81st minute when an attempted clearance kick by Rachel Buehler bounced off teammate Ali Krieger and fell right in front of Japan midfielder Aya Miyama.
Miyama, appearing surprised, nonetheless had the presence of mind to flick the ball with the outside of her left foot into the U.S. net from close range.
It was 1-1 with nine minutes remaining and the U.S. stunned and reeling.
Victory was again within reach when Abby Wambach gave the U.S. a 2-1 advantage in extra time, scoring a headed goal off a pass from Morgan.
But Homare Sawa, playing in her fifth and last World Cup, somehow managed to tie it up near the end of extra time, redirecting the ball past U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo from an acute angle.
It was Sawa’s fifth goal of the tournament, making her the scoring champion.
The final whistle sounded and the match went down to penalty kicks, where the U.S. is usually flawless.
Not this time.
Shannon Boxx saw her effort denied by a foot save from Kaihori.
Aya Miyama scored for Japan.
Carli Lloyd blasted her shot high over the crossbar.
Yuki Nagasoto’s shot was saved by Solo, diving right.
Tobin Heath’s shot was saved by Kaihori, diving right.
Mizuho Sakaguchi’s effort went in off Solo’s hand.
Wambach scored to keep the U.S. alive, barely.
Saki Kumagai’s shot flashed into the net and Japan was world champion.
It was the cruelest of endings for the U.S., the happiest of outcomes for Japan.
And probably the best of results for the future of women’s soccer.
--Grahame L. Jones