Japan beats USA in a thriller at FIFA Women’s World Cup

In one of the most thrilling finals in FIFA Women’s World Cup history, the U.S. Women’s National Team twice had leads erased before falling to a spirited Japanese team 3-1 in a penalty kick shootout to finish as runners up in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The teams ended regulation time tied at 1-1, and each scored a goal in overtime to send the game into penalties even at 2-2.

Alex Morgan put the U.S. ahead in the 69th minute, but Aya Miyama answered 10 minutes from the end of regulation to force overtime. Abby Wambach scored a trademark header in the 104th minute, and Japan once again found the equalizer when Golden Ball winner Homare Sawa had a magnificent touch that deflected off Wambach three minutes from the end of the extra session.

In the penalty shootout, Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori made two outstanding saves and 20-year-old defender Saki Kumagai converted the game-winner to lift Japan to its first ever Women’s World Cup title.

“First of all, I give credit to the players for playing good soccer,” said U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage. “They kept possession better than in the other games we played. But we couldn’t put away our chances. We created a lot of good chances in the first half. It’s a final. There is a small difference between winning and losing.”

Wambach collected the Silver Ball as the second-best player in the World Cup, and also earned the Bronze Boot as the third leading scorer with four goals. At the other end, Hope Solo won the Golden Glove as the tournament’s top ‘keeper, and also the Bronze Ball as the third best player in the tournament.

In what was their finest team performance of the tournament, the U.S. dominated through long stretches and created numerous scoring opportunities. The U.S. took 27 shots on the night, hitting two posts. At the other end, the U.S. defensive unit consistently smothered Japanese advances, getting numbers around the ball and not allowing Japan’s technical players time and space.

The U.S. made two changes to the starting lineup from the team that defeated France in the semifinal, with Rachel Buehler reprising her role at center back after returning from a one-match suspension, and Megan Rapinoe making her second start in the tournament. With Rapinoe slotting into the midfield, Lauren Cheney moved to a forward role in place of Amy Rodriguez. Cheney sprained an ankle on the USA’s first attack, gutted out the first 45 minutes, but then had to be replaced at halftime by the speedy Morgan.

The U.S. controlled the first half, employing a fluid and varied attack. The slick, spacious surface on the magnificent pitch in Frankfurt provided the perfect platform for the United States. Feeling the magnitude of the event, both teams came out flying.

The U.S. nearly got off to a dream start with the game 30 seconds old after Cheney won a challenge deep on the left side of the Japanese area. Bearing down the endline, she tried to draw Kaihori off the post and elected to shoot near side, and Kaihori made a fine kick save.

In the eighth minute, the U.S. began to deploy a tactic that would be fruitful throughout, playing a diagonal ball to Rapinoe on the left side. Taking on her marker and getting space to deliver a cross, she whipped a cross to the near post where Cheney came crashing. With Kaihori frozen, Cheney’s volley sailed just wide.

Carli Lloyd took a crack from 18 yards out in the 11th minute, stepping into a drive that rose just over the bar. One minute later, Cheney penetrated into the Japanese penalty area and waited for reinforcements to arrive. Her pinpoint pass split the defense and rolled into path of Rapinoe, whose shot was deflected wide.

Rapinoe had her best game of the World Cup, posing a constant threat to Japan with her ability to take on defenders and deliver sharp passes over distance. In the 18th minute she again found space on the left side and knifed into the area, deciding to try and hammer a shot past Kaihori, instead hitting the outside of the left post.

The U.S. hit the woodwork again just before the half hour mark, this time off the foot of Wambach. After Cheney was fouled, the referee correctly allowed advantage as Wambach collected the ball and drove into the area before unloading a blistering left-footer that crashed down off the crossbar.

Japan’s first real threat came in the 31st minute after a giveaway in midfield allowed Kozue Ando to slip in behind the back line, but she took a poor angle away from goal and hit a roller right at Solo.

The U.S. made one change at halftime, bringing on Morgan in place of the injured Cheney. Her pace instantly began to cause problems for the Japanese defense, and in the 49th minute she got on the end of a Heather O’Reilly cross, slipping a shot under under Kaihori that bounced off the near post and the ‘keeper’s back before teasingly tumbled toward the goal line before Japan cleared.

Wambach almost converted a header in the 64th minute, fighting off her marker to get on the end of an O’Reilly cross about 15 yards from goal. Her dipping attempt forced Kaihori into a fingertip save that she pushed over the bar.

The U.S. finally broke through in the 69th minute in a play that began just outside the USA’s penalty area. With Yuki Nagasato controlling inside the ‘D’, four U.S. defenders swarmed and won the ball back, Lloyd pushing the ball to Rapinoe. Spying Morgan on the run, she stuck a magnificent 50-yard pass that Morgan outraced Saki Kumagai to collect. She took two touches into the area before burying a perfectly-placed blast into the lower right side-panel.

Rarely troubled to that point, a failed U.S. clearance led to Japan’s tying goal in the 80th minute. After a cross into the area, Buehler and Karina Maruyama tangled, and Buehler’s attempted clearance went towards Ali Krieger whose own try at eliminating the danger hit Miyami and bounced towards goal. Miyami pounced on the loose ball and hit a half volley from four yards out that left Solo helpless.

Nervous moments followed and each team threatened but couldn’t gain the advantage before the end of regulation.

The U.S. came out on the front foot in overtime and pushed for the game-winner, getting chances for Wambach in the 92nd minute and Morgan in the 95th. Their persistence paid off, and once again it was Wambach who came to the rescue in the 104th minute.

Rapinoe began the play with a throw-in to Morgan, whose cross from the left was cleared back their way. Rapinoe attempted another that was blocked by Yukari Kinga, then Morgan retrieved the loose ball and blew past Kinga down the flank, picking out Wambach who was planted in front of the goal three yards out and headed home her fourth goal of the tournament, setting a U.S. team record with her 13th career World Cup goal, surpassing Michelle Akers.

Japan never relented, getting two opportunities of their own as overtime progressed. Danger lurked in the 115th minute when Sawa put Kinga in alone, chipping past a charging Solo. Without enough power on the ball, Christie Rampone had time to recover and clear.

The dagger came in the 117th minute off a corner kick delivery from Miyama to the near post. Sawa, playing in her fifth Women’s World Cup, managed a great flick towards goal that hit off Wambach, catching Solo going the other way. With her fifth goal of the tournament, Sawa earned the Golden Boot as the top scorer.

After expertly winning the penalty shootout in the quarterfinal against Brazil, the U.S. wasn’t able to muster the same precision this time around. Using the same kickers for the first two attempts as from that match, the USA’s Shannon Boxx had her attempt saved as Kaihori guessed correctly, then Lloyd next saw her effort go over the bar. Solo once again dove to her right to deny Yuki Nagasato, but after Kaihori got her second save of the shootout when she rebuffed Tobin Heath’s try. Wambach scored hers, but the game-winner was put on the foot of the young Kumagai, who coolly shot high and to her left to seal the championship for Japan.

– U.S. Women’s National Team Match Report –

Match:U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Japan
Date:July 17, 2011
Competition:2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup – Final
Venue:FIFA Women’s World Cup Stadium; Frankfurt, Germany
Kickoff:8:45 p.m. local / 2:45 p.m. ET
Weather:64 degrees, indoor
Scoring Summary: 1 2 OT1 OT2 F
USA 0 1 1 0 2
JPN 0 1 0 1 2

USA – Alex Morgan (Megan Rapinoe) 69th minute
JPN – Aya Miyama 80
USA – Abby Wambach (Alex Morgan) 104
JPN – Homare Sawa (Aya Miyami) 117

Penalty Summary:
USA – Shannon Boxx (save), Carli Lloyd (miss), Tobin Heath (save), Abby Wambach (goal)
JPN – Aya Miyama (goal), Yuki Nagasato (save), Mizuho Sakaguchi (goal), Saki Kumagai (goal)


USA:1-Hope Solo; 11-Ali Krieger, 19-Rachel Buehler, 3-Christie Rampone (capt.), 6-Amy LePeilbet; 9-Heather O’Reilly, 7-Shannon Boxx, 10-Carli Lloyd, 15-Megan Rapinoe (17-Tobin Heath, 114); 12-Lauren Cheney (13-Alex Morgan, 46); 20-Abby Wambach
Subs not used: 2-Heather Mitts, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Amy Rodriguez, 14-Stephanie Cox, 16-Lori Lindsey, 18-Nicole Barnhart, 21-Jill Loyden
Head coach: Pia Sundhage

JPN:21-Ayumi Kaihori; 2-Yukari Kinga, 4-Saki Kumagai, 15-Aya Sameshima; 11-Shinobu Ohno (18-Karina Maruyama, 66; 20-Mana Iwabuchi, 119), 6-Mizuho Sakaguchi, 10-Homare Sawa (capt.), 8-Aya Miyama; 7-Kozue Ando (17-Yuki Nagasato, 66), 9-Nahomi Kawasumi
Subs not used: 1-Nozomi Yamago, 5-Kyoko Yano, 12-Miko Fukumoto, 13-Rumi Utsugi, 14-Megumi Kamionobe, 16-Asuna Tanaka,19-Megumi Takase
Head coach: Norio Sasaki

Statistical Summary: USA / JPN
Shots: 27 / 14
Shots on Goal: 5 / 6
Saves: 4 / 3
Corner Kicks: 8 / 4
Fouls: 10 / 11
Offside: 3 / 2
Misconduct Summary:
JPN – Aya Miyama (caution) 97th minute
JPN – Azusa Iwashimizu (sent off) 120
Referee: Bibiana Steinhaus (GER)
Assistant Referee 1: Marina Wozniak (GER)
Assistant Referee 2: Katrin Rafalski (GER)
Fourth Official: Jenny Palmqvist (SWE)
Bud Light Woman of the Match:Abby Wambach

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