After being the comeback kids for too many games, the US Women’s National Team took the lead in Sunday’s 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup but were not able to keep it. In fact the US took leads twice in the game only to have Japan equalize each time. On this day it was Japan who proved the dominating team doesn’t always go home with the hardware. Japan defeated the US, wining on penalty kicks 3-1 after a 2-2 overtime draw.
All odds were in the US favor going into this game. The US had met Japan 25 times prior to this match and held a 22-0-3 record against them. That included three wins earlier this year. But the Island Nation who were 2nd in goals scored in this World Cup seemed to have a point to prove to the US and to their own nation who are still reeling from last spring’s earthquake. In fact, Japanese coach Norio Sasaki showed his team photos of the devastation from the earthquake prior to the match. “Not one of the players gave up,” said Sasaki. “The penalty kicks are always a 50-50 chance.”
Despite many worries from the critics that the US would not be able to hold the ball against a supposedly superior Japanese midfield, the Americans had the better of both possession and scoring opportunities. In fact the US came out of the gate quickly in this game, much like they had against France. Only this time they were not able to capitalize on their chances. In fact the US Women’s National Team hit the woodwork three times in this game and had a golden chance knocked inches wide early in the game.
It wasn’t until the second half and the 69th minute the the US was finally able to capitalize on those chances. Megan Rapinoe, who has been one of the key players for the US in this year’s World Cup run, took a ball deep in her own defensive third and sent Alex Morgan through. The youngest player on the US team used her body to gain advantage while on a full sprint and found the far post putting the US up 1-0.
As the game pushed late into the 2nd half and looked as if the US may take the tournament, there was a defensive breakdown. Rachel Buehler was only able to partially clear the ball in the US box and Ali Krieger knocked the ball far too softly in here clearance which allowed it to fall to Japanese midfielder Aya Miyama. The gift was all Miyama needed, slamming the ball past US keeper Hope Solo and drawing the game even in the 81st minute.
The game went into overtime and in the 104th minute it was 22-year-old Morgan again, this time as provider. She took a ball deep to the left corner and squeezed off a near perfect driven cross that saw Abby Wambach only have to nod the ball straight forward to put the US up 2-1.
But it wasn’t over for the Japanese as they had one more trick in their bag. It was the Golden Boot winner Homare Sawa who tied the game again in the 117th minute, shocking the US team and its supporters. Sawa had chipped a ball up moments earlier that looked to be goal bound if not for Christie Rampone’s calm clearance off the line. However, her clearance gave Japan a corner kick which was driven to the near post. It was Sawa again who somehow found a way past Carli Lloyd and made the deftest of touches at an extreme angle to deflect the ball past Solo and her defense and once again draw the game even.
The US outshot Japan 27 to 14 but only 6 to 4 for shots on goal. Despite Japan getting a red card late in the game they made up lost ground showing good fitness and possession in overtime. By games end they trailed the US by a slim 47% to 53%.
In the end it seemed the US had nothing left and Japan had what it took to get the job done in penalties winning 3-1. For the US Women’s National Team and their supporters it was a bitter pill to swallow.
US President Barrack Obama tweeted after the game, “Couldn’t be prouder of the women of #USWNT after a hard-fought game. Congratulations to Japan, Women’s World Cup champions.” Still, one has to reflect on the US Women’s missed chances and defensive miscues that ended their great 2011 World Cup on a sour note.
Hope Solo won the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Abby Wambach wins the Bronze Boot as 3rd highest leading scorer. Sawa from Japan wins the Golden Boot. Marta from Brazil received the Silver.
Solo also wins the Bronze Ball and Wambach the Silver Ball for 3rd and 2nd MVP in the tournament. The 32-year-old Sawa deservedly took home the the Gold Ball for the tournaments MVP.