US Women Fall To Japan in World Cup Final on Penalty Kicks
That all changed Sunday night in Frankfurt, Germany, as the United States missed its first three penalties in the shootout, falling to surprise winners Japan 3-1 on PKs in the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup.
The Americans took the lead twice in the match through goals by Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach but Japan equalized on both occasions, including with less than four minutes remaining in extra time.
"It's obviously heartbreaking," Wambach said. "We had chances throughout the game. This is obviously going to hurt for a while."
The Japanese entered the tournament ranked fourth in the world, but were considered rank outsiders behind favorites Germany, Brazil and the United States. Japan though finished second in its group and beat the host Germans and a streaking Swedish team to make the final, lifting the spirits of a country that was battered by a March earthquake and tsunami.
"Thank you for all your support and all your cheering," said Homare Sawa, who scored Japan's 117th-minute goal and was named the player of the tournament. "It was our energy and it encouraged us."
United States coach Pia Sundhage, whose lineup tinkering worked wonders throughout the tournament, replaced USC grad Amy Rodriguez with Megan Rapinoe in the starting eleven, pushing UCLA alum Lauren Cheney to forward.
The switch almost bore immediate fruit in the game's opening minute, as Cheney got free down the left flank and put a low shot from a tight angle on goal, forcing a sliding save from Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.
Rapinoe and Cheney combined in the 8th minute, when Cheney lunged for Rapinoe's cross but could only deflect the pass wide of the near post.
Wambach and Carli Lloyd maintained the attacking pressure, blasting shots narrowly over the Japanese crossbar in the 9th and 11th minutes.
Rapinoe was then back on the offensive, putting a shot wide in the 12th minute and hitting the outside of the post from a tight angle in the 18th.
Wambach had the Americans' best chance of the first half in the 28th minute, rocketing a shot from the top of the box off of the crossbar.
"We couldn't put away our chances," Sundhage said. "It's a final: [there are] small differences between winning and losing."
With the United States unable to capitalize on their domination of the game, Japan slowly began to fight back. Shinobu Ohno played Kozue Ando through in the 31st minute before Ando put a low shot right at American goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Cheney received a long pass from 36-year-old captain Christie Rampone and put a looping header over the crossbar and into the top netting of the goal in the 34th minute for the United States.
The final chance of the period came in the 44th minute, when Ando was open in the box but couldn't quite reach an entry pass from Ohno.
Cheney limped out of the locker room to start the second half with ice taped around her visibly-swollen ankle and was substituted for 22-year-old Morgan.
Morgan made an instant impact, hitting a left footed shot off of the near post in the 49th minute, the third shot off the woodwork for the U.S. in the match.
Ohno was in all alone against Solo in the 64th minute but was mistakenly called offside by the assistant referee from Germany.
The United States responded right away, with Wambach putting a header on target that Kaihori jumped to tip over the bar.
The Americans finally broke through in the 69th minute through a brilliant collaboration between Rapinoe and Morgan. Rapinoe collected the ball near the top of the opposite penalty box and played a perfectly-weighted pass that Morgan ran on to in the offensive end. The Diamond Bar, Calif. native drove a low left-footed shot inside of the far post to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
The United States looked to cruise to the finish but a mistake in the back allowed Japan to equalize in the 80th minute. Defenders Rachel Buehler and Ali Krieger failed to clear a bouncing ball in the box, with Krieger kicking it straight to midfielder Aya Miyama. Miyama calmly put her shot past a diving Solo, leveling the score at 1-1.
Japan looked reinvigorated by the goal and did most of the attacking in the final 10 minutes of regulation, with midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi dragging an 89th minute wide of Solo's far post.
Unable to decide a winner after 90 minutes, the match went to 30 minutes of extra time.
The United States made the brighter start to the overtime period, with Wambach putting a header on goal in the 92nd minute and Morgan hitting a bending shot wide of the far post in the 95th.
Wambach scored in the 104th minute, extending her goal-scoring streak to four matches. Morgan beat her defender down the baseline and floated a cross in that Wambach sized up and buried with her head, giving the U.S. a 2-1 lead.
Sawa was back two minutes later, leveling the game from a corner kick. Sawa charged toward the pass and flicked it with her right foot toward the goal and past Solo, evening the game at 2-2 in the 117th minute.
Wambach had a golden chance to give the Americans the win in the 120th minute, but she popped up her shot over the crossbar from six yards away.
In the stoppage time of extra time, Morgan broke free and was taken down near the top of the box by Azusa Iwashimizu. The referee whistled for a free kick and sent Iwashimizu off with a red card.
Substitute midfielder Tobin Heath got on the end of the ensuing free kick but her shot was blocked away, sending the game to penalty kicks.
Shannon Boxx stepped up first and saw her penalty saved by Kaihori's trailing leg. Lloyd then blasted her penalty kick over the crossbar and Kaihori dove to save Heath's low attempt. Meanwhile, Japan made two of its first three penalties, with Solo saving Yūki Nagasato's shot.
Wambach buried her shot into the upper corner to make the score 2-1 in the shootout. 20-year-old defender Saki Kumagai slammed the decisive shot past Solo, sending the Japanese team into a frenzied celebration of its first World Cup title.
"Japan just kept coming and they never gave up," Wambach said. "Now they're the world champs."