Opportunities missed will be the sentiments echoed for some time following the U. S. women’s World Cup finals loss to Japan Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany before 48,817 fans. Instead, it was the Japanese women who capitalized on their chances to force a 2-2 tie after regulation and 30 minutes of extra time before winning 3-1 on penalty kicks to capture the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup title.
The U. S. women, seeking their third Cup championship and first since 1999, had ample opportunities early in the match to score including a shot off the post in the first minute by Lauren Cheney, another great look by Cheney at the eight minute mark and yet another chance by Carli Lloyd. The U. S. offensive attack in the first few minutes of the match was relentless but ultimately fruitless. The U. S. squad had another opportunity midway through the first to break the scoreless tie when Abby Wambach’s rocket shot hit the cross-bar. The U. S. team dominated the first half, outplaying the Japanese women and holding a 12-5 shots on goal advantage, yet had nothing to show for it.
Things did not get better for the U. S. going into the second half. Cheney hobbled out of the locker room with an ice bag wrapped around her ankle, signaling the end of her day. She was replaced by Alex Morgan, the youngest player on the American squad at age 22. The beginning of the second half looked much like the first as the U. S. had three more shots on goal in the first three minutes with the same result. Japan appeared to have their first real opportunity to break the scoreless tie at the 64 minute mark when forward Shinobu Ohno slipped past the American defense just beyond mid-field on an apparent break away but was whistled for a questionable off-sides. Wambach almost answered immediately after that, but a great deflection by Japanese goalie Ayumi Kaihori kept the Americans off the board.
The U. S. finally broke through at the 69 minute mark when American mid-fielder Megan Rapinoe’s pass from deep in the American end found Alex Morgan who drilled a left footed kick past Kaihori into the right hand corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead. The #4 ranked Japanese, typically a patient ball control team, put three strikers on the field to pressure the #1 ranked U. S. team who seemed content with trying to play out the final 20 minutes of the game. But, a defensive blunder in front of the net by Rachel Buehler allowed Japanese mid-fielder Aya Miyama to tie the score at 1-1 at the 81st minute eventually forcing the two 15 minute extra time sessions.
The U. S. struck first in the extra time session on a beautiful pass from the left side by Morgan to a wide open Wambach whose header gave the Americans the 2-1 lead at the 104 mark. After the teams switched sides to start the second fifteen minute frame, Yukari Kinga had a great scoring opportunity on a terrific pass from mid-fielder and Golden Ball Award winner Homare Sawa, but couldn’t control the ball. American goalie Hope Solo went down on the play with a leg injury and was treated on the field for some time before getting back up. After the delay Miyama sent a corner kick to Sawa who put a beautiful header past the American goalie to tie the score at 2-2 at the 117 mark. It was not clear whether the injury had affected Solo’s reaction to the shot.
The U. S. still had a chance to seal the deal at the 121 minute mark after Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu drew a red card for a slide tackle on Morgan just outside of the penalty box. The play left the Japanese with ten players on the field and free kick for the Americans. Carli Lloyd’s kick was deflected to Tobin Heath who missed a chance at the put back with extra time ending shortly after that and leaving only penalty kicks to decide the winner.
The Americans won the toss with Shannon Boxx attempting the first penalty kick, but a great kick save by Kaihori kept the U. S. off the board. Next up was Miyama who put the Japanese up 1-0 on a shot past Solo to the right side. Lloyd’s shot sailed over the goal on the second attempt, but a miss by Yuki Nagasato kept the American hopes alive. Heath missed the third attempt, but Mizuho Sakaguchi answered giving the Japanese a 2-0 lead. Wambach finally broke through cutting the lead to 2-1, but Saki Kumagai’s, shot to the top left side over Solo gave the Japanese a 3-1 lead and their first World Cup victory.