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July 17, 2011
Japan bests U.S. on penalties

Abby Wambach scores against Japan in extra time of Sunday's Women's World Cup Final against Japan.
Abby Wambach scores against Japan in extra time of Sunday's Women's World Cup Final against Japan.
photo by Tony Quinn/Icon SMI
FRANKFURT, Germany---Maybe Japan was the team of destiny. Maybe their shattered country needed the win in Sunday’s Women’s World Cup Final more, and the United States literally handed it to them. After controlling the run of play for much of the game and leading twice, once in regulation and once in overtime, the United States muffed three penalty kicks, giving Japan the championship 3-1 in the tiebreaker after a 2-2 draw.

Youngster Alex Morgan, who came in as a substitute for the injured Lauren Cheney at halftime, gave the United States a 1-0 lead in the 69th minute, on a beautifully executed play. Megan Rapinoe played a ball out of the back over the top. Morgan beat defender Saki Kumagi, took her fir beforest touch with her left foot then ripped a right-footed shot past netminder Ayumi Kaihori.

The lead lasted all of 12 minutes, when an uncharacteristic bit of disorganization in the back cost the United States. Rachael Buehler tried to clear a ball from inside the six-yard box, but misplayed it. It fell across the goalmouth to Ali Kreiger, who touched it back toward the goal where Aya Miyama poked it home.

Like they have done twice before, the U.S. proved they still had fight in them, as they went into their third straight overtime and again retook the lead. This time it was Morgan who picked up the ball on the left side and brought it near the end line. She cut a pass back into the penalty area, where Abby Wambach was planted at the top of the six-yard box to send an open header into the net.

Again the lead didn’t last. Homare Sawa diverted a 117th-minute corner kick into the net for the 2-2 equalizer.

The penalty kick phase turned into a bad Japanese horror movie for the United States, as the first three shooters missed their chances. Shannon Boxx tried to go to the same spot she did against Brazil, and Kaihori made the save. Carli Lloyd skied her shot high over the net, and Tobin Heath also had her shot saved.

Japan’s first shot, a slow roller by Miyama, caught goalkeeper Hope Solo going the other way. Solo stopped Yuki Nagasato’s second-round chance, then got a hand on the shot by Mizuho Sakaguchi, but it fluttered into the goal inside the left post.

Wambach made her fourth round kick, giving the U.S. hope, but when Saki Kumagi beat Solo with her shot, the Americans’ hopes were dashed.

It should not have been. The United States had plenty of chances to put the game away, outshooting the Japanese 27-14, but putting only five of those chances on frame.

It could have easily been 1-0 in the first minute, when Cheney’s shot from along the end line was stopped by Kaihori. Eight minutes later, Rapinoe’s shot from almost the same spot was just off the mark.

So it went, wave after wave of U.S. attacks going for naught. The woodwork helped the Japanese on several occasions, the first coming in the 18th when Rapinoe’s shot from near the endline hit the post. Eleven minutes later, Wambach broke into the left corner of the area only to have her shot hit the upper right corner of the crossbar. Lloyd’s second chance went high over the bar.

A beautiful long ball by Christie Rampone in the closing minutes of the first half was headed high by Cheney.

The only time Solo was tested in the first half was when Kozue Ando got past the defense into the corner of the six yard box, but the U.S. goalkeeper, who has had numerous proposals of marriage following her performance in the last two games, came up with the save.

Almost immediately after entering the game, Morgan nearly made an impact, but her shot hit the post. Minutes later, Heather O’Reilly got a ball in to Wambach, but her header was pushed over the bar by Kaihori, who barely got a hand on it.

Just into the first overtime, the U.S. put two shots on frame, but Wambach’s header was right at the Japanese goalkeeper, and when Morgan got in between two defenders, Kaihori was able to stop the shot.

After Wambach staked the U.S. to their second lead in the 104th minute, the U.S. was lucky to not give it up just eight minutes later when another miscue in the back left Miyama with the ball, but she could not control it.

In the 114th minute, another bungled defensive effort on a ball in by Sawa left Yukari Kinga with a shot. Solo was already off her line, and it was only a heady play by Rampone to get back in time and clear the ball away that left the U.S. in the lead. The ensuing corner kick led to Sawa’s equalizer.

While the U.S. was left with a player advantage after Azusa Iwashimizu was shown a straight red for impeding a breakaway by Morgan in the 120th minute, but like so many opportunities during and before this World Cup, the U.S. could not capitalize.

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