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Japan Beats USA in Penalties for World Cup Title 34

Posted: July 17, 2011, 7:23 PM ; Updated: July 18, 2011, 10:26 AM

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Amid the sorrow that lingers throughout Japan, perhaps a little joy -- courtesy of the determined women on its World Cup team.

They beat the Americans for the title in a riveting final Sunday night, 3-1 on penalty kicks, after coming from behind twice in a 2-2 tie. The star of the shootout was feisty goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, who made two brilliant saves in the shootout.

All tournament long the teammates poignantly reminded the world they were playing for their battered country, still reeling from the devastation of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Did they ever.

They held the gleaming trophy high above their smiling faces as confetti swirled around the podium, flecking their hair with gold.

"Before we went to the match tonight we had some commentary on television and we heard comments on the situation in Japan," coach Norio Sasaki said. "We wanted to use this opportunity to thank the people back home for the support that has been given."

This was Japan's first appearance in the final of a major tournament, and they had not beaten the Americans in their first 25 meetings, including a pair of 2-0 losses in warm-up games a month before the World Cup. But the Nadeshiko pushed ahead, playing inspired soccer and hoping their success could provide even a small emotional lift to their nation, where nearly 23,000 people died or were reported missing.

After each game, the team unfurled a banner saying, "To our Friends Around the World - Thank You for Your Support." On Sunday, they did it before the match and afterward they had a new sign to display: Champion - the first Asian country to win this title.

The Americans found it all too hard to grasp. They believed they were meant to be World Cup champions after their rocky year -- needing a playoff to qualify, a loss in group play to Sweden, the epic comeback against Brazil. They simply couldn't pull off one last thriller.

"The players were patient. They wanted to win this game," Sasaki said. "I think it's because of that the Americans scored only two goals."

While the Japanese celebrated at midfield, the Americans stood as a group and watched.

"There are really no words," Abby Wambach said. "We were so close."

Minutes, actually.

After Wambach scored in the 104th minute of overtime to give the Americans a 2-1 lead, Homare Sawa flicked in a corner kick in the 117th to tie it. It was the fifth goal of the tournament for Sawa, who was playing in her fifth World Cup.

"We ran and ran," Sawa said. "We were exhausted, but we kept running."

The Americans had beaten Brazil on penalty kicks in a quarterfinal, but they didn't have the same touch Sunday. Give Kaihori credit for some of that. Shannon Boxx took the first U.S. shot, and it banged off Kaihori's right leg as she dove. After Aya Miyama made her penalty, Carli Lloyd stepped up and sent her shot soaring over the crossbar. As the crowd gasped, Lloyd covered her mouth in dismay.

Solo saved Japan's next shot, but Kaihori made an impressive two-handed save on a shot by Tobin Heath.

"This is a team effort," Kaihori said. "In the penalty shootout I just had to believe in myself and I was very confident."

Solo came up with a save, and Wambach buried her penalty kick.

But Japan need to make just one more, and Saki Kumagai did.

"It's tough to do two rounds of penalties," Wambach said. "The keeper knows in a lot of ways where we're going to go. She made some great saves."

It's been 12 years since the United States has won the World Cup, and this team was certain they were the ones to break the drought. They'd needed to beat Italy in a two-game playoff just to get into the World Cup, then lost two games in a three-month span, an unusual "bad streak" for the defending Olympic champions.

After easy wins in their first two games in Germany, the Americans lost to Sweden -- their first loss ever in World Cup group play.

But they rallied with one of the most riveting finishes ever in a World Cup game - men's or women's -- against Brazil in the quarterfinals. Down a player for almost an hour and on the verge of making their earliest exit ever from a major tournament, Wambach's magnificent, leaping header in the 122nd minute tied the game.

The Americans beat Brazil on penalty kicks and, just like that, a nation was hooked.

Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, even folks who don't know a bicycle kick from a Schwinn were captivated by the U.S. women and charmed by their grit and can-do attitude that is uniquely -- proudly -- American. Even President Barack Obama was a fan, taking to Twitter himself on Sunday morning to wish the team well.

"Sorry I can't be there to see you play, but I'll be cheering you on from here. Let's go. - BO."

But, of course, it was not to be.

"Considering the current situation in Japan, I can say that we still have some weak points," Sasaki said. "Nevertheless this has been an outstanding tournament for us."

The Americans finished the first half with a 12-5 shot advantage but had just one attempt on target. Lauren Cheney came up short three times, Wambach shook the crossbar and Megan Rapinoe banged one off the near post.

The Americans finally broke through in the second half, with Morgan scoring her second goal of the tournament in the 69th. Rapinoe booted a pass that traveled almost half the length of the field and Morgan, who replaced the injured Cheney at halftime, beat three defenders to catch up to it. She shook Kumagai, touched the ball once with her right foot, stutter-stepped and then delivered a left-footed blast from 17 yards that Kaihori had no chance at stopping.

The Americans raced over to Morgan for a group bearhug while chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" echoed through the stadium.

But with just nine minutes or so before they could claim the title, the Americans gifted Japan a goal. Rachel Buehler tied to clear the ball right in front of the goal and knocked it to Ali Krieger, who botched her clearance, too. The ball fell to Miyama, who poked it in from five yards to tie it.

"If any other country was to win this, then I'm really happy and proud for Japan," Lloyd said. "Deep down inside I really thought it was our destiny to win it. But maybe it was Japan's."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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34 Comments

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Japan rules

Japan deserved it

They did they have fun and other stuff like that

i love these girls so much but japan deserves it they lost so much. im glad they won not sweden. to the us team- you guys rock and ill always believe in you. you won that game everywhere but pks .

they are better than the mens, but i enjoy watching the mens more

usa will get them next year and will get payback!
i can't wait till next world cup

Good Job USA!!!!!!! AT least we won 2nd

yeah at least they tried.

Have u guys realized that after a county/state has something bad happens to them, they usually win a big name title? For example, after hurricane Katrina, new Orleans won the super bowl, and now, after an earthquake, japan won the world cup.

Wonder Why

USA WILL ALWAYS WIN IN TEAMWORK,GOALKEEPING, HEADERS, CROSSES, AND THE MOST SHOTS TAKEN ON GOAL ON ONE GAME

JAPAN WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS THE USA USA USA USA USA

who cares?!

i do that was a really cool game

stupid penalty shots grrrrrr

At one of the premier sporting functions of the season, the USA Women's team was making a run at the Women's World Cup final. The team overcame some excellent teams throughout the event. The Japanese squad, a serious underdog, put paid American dreams by winning a shootout after extra time in the final.

I am dyig inside. the whole country was pulling for the us, and so was i. but you can't say they failed. they worked there gludious maximuses off to gt to that point, but unfortunately they could not clinch the victory. Japan also deserves credit. they had a disaster torn country to support and rought them happiness. though i do think those blue jerseys work best for the US

It was a fifty fifty ball game until it came to penalty kicks.
I bet USA missed some kicks because of nervousness.

I agree they were to nervous.

shock. that's the only word for this. those us girls wanted it MUCH more than japan. they were even crying! they played SOOOOOOO much better! its not fair! oh well those japanese looked very happy........ but boo hoo! :(

At least Japan's happy, because they just suffered an earthquake.

Japan should get nothing, they only won in penatly shootout, USA beat them every where, shots, energy, and should have won the match at least 3-1:(

I know they won the PK shootout but not the game.

couldn't agree more. did you see that slide-tackle on alex morgan in the box? they played rougher, too! I think that they should have just added another 30 minutes, cuz those PKs are SOOOOO intense!!!!

JAPAN DID NOT DESERVE TO WIN PENALTY KICKS MEAN NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

i agree with the origional comment, but NOT with the other reply. japan should have been thankful they even got that far, that was WAY past their goal, but with the usa it was all or nothing. they worked so hard and they deserved it more than japan. i am sorry to say this, but hope solo kinda let the US down. but imagine being in her shoes- it must be really hard with all that pressure.

so true starnet16

What do you mean? Of course they deserve to win! Japan battled through all the controversy going on with lost family and friends and focused on winning the game and USA didnt fight hard enough in the end. USA lost.
j

USA should get a reward for something.They were playing best the whole game til Japan won.

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