Resilient Japanese Win World Cup


United States 2 : 2 Japan

(Japan wins 3 -1 on penalties)

by Kara McDermott

The US dream ended in a penalty kick nightmare in Frankfurt tonight as sentimental favorites Japan rallied again and again to overcome the United States in the World Cup finals.

The game started promising for the US, who came out strong in the first seconds of play.

Lauren Cheney, replacing Amy Rodriguez who started every other match of this tournament up top with Abbie Wambach, brought the ball down the left line, beat a defender and shot close to the end line towards near post, but it was batted away by goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

The resulting corner was just as dangerous as Cheney served it, looking for Wambach towering over the Japanese defense at far post, but Japan again was able to deflect away.

The US continued to push up their sides, putting the Japanese on their heels early. Again in the 8th minute, Megan Rapinoe served a ball deep from the left side to Cheney running forward. She reached her leg out to finish, but the ball hit the side netting of the near post.

US continued to shoot, with Wambach, Carli Lloyd and Rapinoe setting up a constant onslaught of shots and plays. By the 10th minute, US had outshot the Japanese side 6(2) to 2(1).

Most of their shots were going over, but Wambach gave the Japanese more to worry about in the 28th minute. After Cheney was tackled around midfield, the ball popped free and Wambach collected. She took a long dribbling run and opened up to fire just as she entered the penalty area on the left side. The ball shot passed the outstretched arms of Kaihori, but was saved by the corner of the cross bar.

Japan didn’t threaten much until the 31st minute, when Kozue Ando ran onto a short through ball and took a shot from the left side. However, the ball lacked too much zip to provide goalkeeper Hope Solo with anything but an easy catch.

Japan had a few opportunities as the clock ran down on the first half, but had trouble finding their trademark rhythm to penetrate the US defense, who held a strong line. At the end of half, the US had outshot their Asian counterparts 14(1) to 6(1).

The US took a hit at halftime when it was revealed that Cheney had sustained a right ankle injury and had to be pulled by coach Pia Sundhage and replaced with Alex Morgan.

Japan came out hard from the locker room, throwing the USâ first half pressure back in their face. They were able to get more bodies in front of every ball and read the Americans’ minds much more effectively.

A fray in the 49th minute got the US back in the game. Heather O’Reilly crossed into the box to Morgan, who tried to tip the ball around to the goal. Kaihori managed to get just enough of a hand on it to arrest the ball’s forward movement, and luckily one of her defenders was able to come in and clear the sitting ball.

The game once again became the Lloyd, Rapinoe, Wambach and Morgan show. But Japan held strong and were able to quickly transition out of defense to keep the game going back and forth.

In the 64th minute, Wambach took a diving header in the middle of the goal from a cross by O’Reilly. Kaihori, one of the smaller keepers on the world stage, came up big for her team by getting a hand on it to tip it over.

A battle of possession ensued in the middle third of the field, with both teams trying to find a way to flay open their opposition, and finally the US found success.

In the 69th, Rapinoe cleared a long ball out of the defense. Morgan received it in the center of their offensive third, took the ball into the left side of the box, and finished right footed into the far right post. The US was all smiles as they continued to play.

But Japan would not be discounted. In the 80th minute, Aya Miyama, stalking in the penalty area, capitalized on a defensive error. Rachel Buehler legally tackled in the center of the box, and tried with a sliding attempt to clear across the goal. Ali Krieger, coming in to help, again tried a quick clear through the center instead of turning outside. Miyama though had snuck in on her back side, and was there to deflect the ball, move forward and finish point blank against Solo.

The game turned more even as the ball went from one end to the other with opportunities from both sides, but neither was able a clean finish. Regulation ended with a 1-1 tie despite the US continuing to outshoot Japan, who held even possession, 11(3) to 23(4).

The US again started strong in the extra half. Opportunities came from corners by Rapinoe and Morgan acting as a target player deep in the US’ offensive end.

Finally, it paid off in the 102nd minute. A fray in the penalty area bounced about dangerously from player to player: Lloyd, deflection, Rapinoe, deflection, and then to Morgan who served it across to Wambach for a point blank header into the net.

The US survived several nerve-wracking moments in their own defensive box until the 117th minute when a corner taken by Miyama found captain Homare Sawa, who tipped the ball with the outside of her foot past the defense and Solo.

The US had two late chances at a heroic recapture of their lead. Service to Wambach in the 120th minute needed just a simple redirection into the goal as her defender was already beat, but her raised toe sent the ball over from just a few yards from the goal.

And then in the 120+1st, defender Azusa Iwashimizu fell on the grenade for her team, earning a red card for interfering with an obvious goal scoring opportunity off of a hard tackle on Morgan just outside the box. The resulting kick would be the last play of the game. O’Reilly tapped to Lloyd who shot for far post, but it was deflected. Sub Tobin Heath attempted a follow-up but that was also denied. The champions would be decided on penalty kicks.

Japan had the opportunity to watch the US take penalties in their quarterfinal game against Brazil, and was obviously taking notes. The first kick was taken by Shannon Boxx, who hit it weakly to the right just as she did against Brazil. Kaihori was ready and dove to the correct side. She overshot her dive, but got a pretty kick save to put her team in good standing.

Miyama stepped up next and faked out Solo with a stuttering run for a goal. Lloyd followed and shot the ball way over down the center of the goal. Yuki Nagasato tried to go left post with her right foot, but Solo was there to keep her team alive. Heath tried the same tactic, and similarly was unsuccessful, missing the third straight penalty for the US and all but sealing their fate.

Mizuho Sakaguchi’s next shot didn’t trick one of the world’s best goalkeepers, but Solo didn’t get enough on it and the ball went under her hand and into the goal. Wambach then was forced to convert and one of the most mentally tough players in the tournament didn’t disappoint with a solid shot to the left for the USA’s first conversion.

That left Saki Kumagai with the chance to win for her team and going high and center, she did just that.

Japan came back from behind twice and proved the danger of an underdog. The journey man team had never advanced past the quarterfinals, and now had beaten the number one ranked team in the world to gain their first World Cup championship. The US was the better team for much of the game, but failed to hold their advantages.

What do the American fans comfort themselves with then? How about that late win against Brazil in the quarterfinals or the three goals in the semi-finals? How about a final game without any cards and few fouls by the US squad? How about Wambach and Solo smiling with bitter tears in their eyes as they congratulated their opponents in post-game interviews? Celebrate a team that has the character to survive to win, but can also survive a loss.

In a conference before the final, Wambach said their goal was, no matter the result, to make America proud. In that at least, they have had their success.

Kara McDermott is sadly signing off her tournament coverage and would like to thank readers for staying with her until the end.

You can find her throughout the year at her blog, Waving the Rave.

Penalty Shoot out 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

Japan: 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


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  1. I hate this…it killed me soo much. I can’t believe we fought so hard for 120 mins just to let them back in the game and then miss our chances. I’m proud of Japan, but I’ve been supporting our girls for the past 12 years and I was even at the 1999 WWC Final. I don’t think I can support them anymore, it’s too heartbreaking.

  2. "Tokyo Five" on

    Honestly I’m not much of a soccer fan…but I was interested in this championship match. It was USA vs Japan—my country of birth against my adopted home.