After twists and turns befitting a Broadway drama the curtain finally fell on the United States’ hopes of lifting the Women’s World Cup. But, it was the steely antagonists Japan who had the final triumph on this day, defeating the U.S.A. 3-1 on penalties in a heartbreaking storyline that was also appropriate to this year’s tournament.
It was clear that Pia Sundhage had instructed her women to go right after Japan and the U.S.A. started brightly with Cheney getting shots in the 1st and 8th minutes. Indeed, within the first 20 minutes Japan were finding it hard to get into any rhythm as Carli Lloyd kept trying her luck from distance and the U.S.A. had already racked up seven shots. Hardly any of them were on goal however and squandering chances quickly became the theme of the first half from the Americans’ point of view. The best chance of the half came when the immense Wambach blasted against the crossbar with her left foot from 20 yards out. Scores were level at the break but Japan were slowly working themselves into confident passing and possession play.
After the interval Alex Morgan replaced Cheney who had picked up an ankle injury and the substitute made an immediate impact, going close but hitting the woodwork again from close — it seemed the Americans were doing everything they could to score but failing to capitalize again. Japan were asserting themselves now and showing the world why they earned the ‘giant-killer’ nickname as they whipped in a corner on 56 minutes that zipped dangerously past Hope Solo’s goalmouth without anyone there to apply the final touch.
The game was end to end with both teams pressing and possession at 50% each when the breakthrough came for the Americans. The very impressive Rapinoe got hold of the ball deep in her defensive end after a Japanese attack and picked out Alex Morgan, the lone counter-attacking player with a 60 yard ball. Morgan, only 22 years old, got around her defender skillfully and showed real class by running onto the pass and finishing with aplomb in the bottom right corner past the diving Kaihori.
The lead only lasted 12 minutes as Japan equalized on the 81st minute and made the Americans rue all those missed chances in the first half. Miyama hit home after the two American centerbacks made a hash of clearing out of their 6 yard box. Japan were fully deserving of their equalizer and had earned the extra time.
In extra time, the U.S.A. continued to exploit their size and try the long ball strategy when on the 104th minute, the talisman Wambach scored surely what would be the winner. Morgan beat her defenders in the box near the byline and crossed superbly to the flat-footed Wambach who only needed steer the ball with her head into the back of the net.
Surely this is what World Cup glory tastes like? Surely this was the time for Wambach’s generation to stop being jealous of the Hamm generation and lift the cup for themselves? Japan had other ideas.
The never-say-die Americans conceded once again to the never-say-die Japanese and we were all level at 2-2 with penalties an inevitability. Morgan was brought down just outside the 18 by Iwashimizu but her dismissal by the referee could have but little impact because it came so late.
Before the penalty phase the Americans must have felt confident with Hope Solo having such a formidable presence in goal, but putting the ball in the net turned out to be their undoing. Shannon Boxx, Lloyd, and substitute Tobin Heath all missed their penalties and Japan would never look back. Wambach netted her chance, but once again, misses cost the United States.
Full credit to Japan, a team rocked by personal loss and adversity given the earthquake and tsunami disaster was able to surmount 1-goal deficits twice on the world’s biggest stage against the world’s best team.
Written by: Tom Yonker, WWC correspondent, soccerprose.com
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