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Japan Surprises US, Wins The Women's World Cup Final

Update: A replay of the Women's World Cup Final between the US and Japan is currently being shown on ESPN2.

Japan has won the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. And while all the credit goes to Japan, it’s clear that missed opportunities cost the US team the soccer championship. The USA had numerous first half chances and held a one-goal lead twice, but Japan showed resilience, kept fighting and finally pulled out the 2011 World Cup championship in penalty kicks.

Japan’s win arguably means more to any nation, after the tsunami and nuclear disaster they suffered earlier this year. Ironically, Japan was celebrating Uminohi (Marine Day), a national holiday that honors the blessings of the sea.

Much like the US’s Brazil match, 120 minutes of soccer wasn’t enough. It came down to penalty kicks again.

Shannon Boxx set the tone early by missing the US’s first attempted penalty kick.  It would mostly go downhill from there.

Japan scored on their first attempt. And then Carly Lloyd missed the US’s second attempt by hitting it over the crossbar. It all looked over, but Hope Solo came up with a huge save and stopped Japan’s second attempt. But Japan’s goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori answered and made the US 0-3 in their first three attempt. Hope Solo came close to stopping Japan’s third attempt, but came up short. Abby Wambach kept the US alive by scoring her penalty kick, but Japan scored on their fourth attempt and taking their first World Cup ever.

After the match, star goalkeeper Hope Solo gave a tearful interview where she said, "As difficult as this is, if there was any team I would give it to, it would be Japan."

Head coach Pia Sundhage, said “It came down to a couple of mistakes. It’s hard to lose. You can’t explain [missing their first three penalty kicks.] We couldn’t put away our chances.”

Abby Wambach said it all, “It’s heartbreaking. We had our chances. Evidently it wasn’t meant to be.”

The US dominated play for the first twenty minutes, putting seven shots on goals, but unable to capitalize on any of them. The majority of of play was in Japan’s end with Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach getting close calls. The next eight minutes were played with end-to-end action that offered up solid scoring chances for both sides.

Japan took some momentum back from the 20-25 minute mark, but they were also unable to put the ball in the back of the net.

The momentum shifted back in the US’s favor at the 28 minute mark when Abby Wambach took a great left-footed shot from 30 feet out that went off the cross-bar.

Japan’s Kozue Ando gave Japan their best chance up to that point with a mini breakaway on the left side at the 30 minute mark, but was only able to get a feeble shot which Hope Solo scooped up with ease.

While the US couldn’t capitalize on their numerous chances, their defensive pressure kept Japan off their rhythm. Whenever Japan tried to get something going, the US would swarm the ball.

Both sides calmed down from that point on until half time, with a nil-nil score after 45 minutes.

Three minutes into the second half the US hit another post, when an Alex Morgan redirect went off the goal post, then off the keeper and was cleared. At this point it almost seemed like it wasn’t going to happen for the US today. Despite all their pressure, they just couldn’t finish.

In the 63rd minute the Japanese had a seemingly free breakaway, but were called for an offside. The replay showed that it was the wrong call.

In the 68th minute the 22-year-old Alex Morgan took a perfect drive from Megan Rapinoe and put the ball in the back of the net. Morgan fought off a Japanese defender and drove the ball hard and true across past Japanese keeper Kaihori to put the USA on the board and take a 1-0 lead.

It seemed that the US was cruising to the win at that point. Celebrated goalkeeper Hope Solo had not been truly tested all game. But a disorganized clearing attempt by Rachel Buehler in their own end ended poorly when the ball went straight to Japan’s Aya Miyama right in front of the goal and got an easy chip in to tie it at 1-1 with ten minutes of regulation left.

That score held as they went into extra time.

Overtime had gone back and forth, Abby Wambach, who had been surprisingly held in check all game by one of the shortest team’s in the tournament pulled through at the most important moment of her career. 15 minutes into extra time, Abby took a perfect cross from Alex Morgan and put one of her patented headers past the keeper to give the US a 2-1 lead. It was her fourth goal with her head, and she is now the third leading goal scorer in Women’s World Cup history.

But Japan would not give up. Most smaller teams would not have much success on corner kicks, but Japan pulled through yet one more time when Homare Sawa chipped a corner kick off a US defender and into the goal. Moments earlier Hope Solo needed medical attention to her knee, but that did not seem to play a part in the goal. It was just poor defense on the United States part.

Trivia: Azusa Iwashimizu was awarded the first red card in Women’s World Cup finals history with two minutes remaining in extra time. 

Japan's Homare Sawa won the golden boot award.