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March 5, 2012
US Women fail to reach Algarve Cup final for the first time in a decade

Hope Solo could not stop Megumi Takase's goal in the 84th minute.
Hope Solo could not stop Megumi Takase's goal in the 84th minute.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
FARO, Portugal--First there was Norway. Then came China and Germany.

Now you can add Japan to the list of nemeses for the U.S. Women's National Team.

For the second time in less than a year, the Americans were unable to defeat the Japanese, losing to the Asian side, 1-0, in a Group B encounter at the Algarve Cup at Estadio Algarve on Monday.

The Americans (2-1) finished second in the group to Japan (3-0).

The defeat snapped a nine-year streak of the U.S. playing in the cup final.

Last year Japan overcame the U.S. in penalty kicks to capture the Women's World Cup in Germany. That result officially will go down in the books as a draw for each team, but the Japanese were declared champions.

Megumi Takase scored the lone goal of the match in the 84th minute to propel Japan into the championship game. The U.S. will play the loser of the Sweden-Germany encounter in the third-place match on Wednesday.

To their credit, the U.S. offered no excuses.

"They played like the best team in the world," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "They kept possession and controlled the attack. Even though we made some changes at halftime, and looked more dangerous in the second half, still they got a goal off a corner. The way they play both defensively and in the attack is very good.

Sundhage added: "You could tell there is a lot of things to work on and especially looking at Japan, their technique and how they keep the ball. They should be role models for the world, the way they play."

U.S. striker Abby Wambach agreed.

The Japanese team is fantastic," she said. "They have so many great players. They keep such good possession that its really difficult to get a rhythm because you dont have as much possession as you normally do. Its something to think about and to move forward with and train against, so when we go to Japan [in April] and maybe see them in the Olympics, we can fare better and play better.

With about six minutes remaining, Japan put together one of its few deep penetrations into the U.S. defensive third in the second half. The Asian side crossed from the right side to the far post where defender Amy LePeilbet, who was under pressure from an attacking player, had to head the ball over her own end line for a corner kick.

Miyama's service flew to the far post and Takase headed the ball into the right side of the net from just outside the six-yard box. The goal came off Japan's only corner kick of the game and its only shot of the second half.

"I think in the first half, we looked very nervous and the decision-making was off," Sundhage said. "Too many times we gave away the ball in situations when we were not even under pressure or in tight spaces. We couldn't keep the ball enough to be dangerous. When you give away the ball against Japan, they keep it. It's so much defending. Mentally and physically, that's tough, but I am happy with the changes we made at halftime and even parts of the first half where we tried to play more direct. I think we looked more dangerous and came up with a couple of chances."

A jittery American side put together a poor first half in which Japan enjoyed the majority of possession while the U.S. struggled to string passes together. Still, the U.S. actually put the ball in the net seven minutes into the match after Wambach headed a long Christie Rampone free kick to Alex Morgan inside the six-yard box. Morgan volleyed her chance into the left corner but it was waved away for offside.

The Americans' best chance of the half came in the 26th minute as Morgan ran onto a long ball over the defense, out-muscled a defender and struck a left-footed drive off the base of the right post from 16 yards.

Morgan caused the Japanese the most trouble on both sides of halftime.

She beat goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto to a ball in the right side of the penalty area in the 57th minute. As Morgan touched it by her, she went to ground, but it was unclear if she had made contact with the Japanese keeper. Morgan got to her feet immediately still in possession of the ball, but her cross found no one in the center of the penalty area

One minute later, Cox sent in a driven cross from the left flank. The ball was headed up in the air and fell to Morgan, who blasted her volley just over the crossbar.

In the 63rd minute, it was Morgan again who got a good look at the goal. This time a build-up got the ball to Wambach with her back to goal near the top of the area. She turned and slipped a pass through to Morgan, who evaded a defender, but her angled left-footed shot from the right side of the penalty box went wide left.

I dont think we did enough to win this match," Morgan said. "Japan was the better team today. There are some things we need to work on and looking forward to the Olympics, the next time we meet a team like Japan we will be the better team on the field that day.
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