On Sunday, a drama-filled affair in Frankfurt, Germany was settled by a penalty shoot-out that Japan won, handing them their first World Cup win.
Team USA’s Alex Morgan had appeared to have won the game when she scored the first goal of the game in the 68th minute. However, the drama was just beginning and Japan’s Aya Miyama leveled the tie in the 80th minute.
Japan then began to dominate proceedings for the final moments of normal time, however with neither team able to conclude matters in the regulation 90-minutes, the teams were forced to play extra time.
America came back well and seemed to dominate the first 15-minute extra time period, and again Team USA looked to have clinched the tie when Abby Wambach’s header in the 103rd minute gave the team a 2-1 lead.
But credit must go to the fighting spirit of Japan, who refused to lay down and accept defeat. They once again came back and Japan’s captain Homare Sawa scored the vital equalizer with just minutes remaining, in the 116th minute.
That brought the game to penalty kicks, and it was here that Japan’s players held their nerve better than their American counterparts.
After two missed attempts for Team USA, Amy Wambach finally scored for the U.S. but Japan were not to be denied and Saki Kumagai’s successful penalty won the World Cup for her country 3-1 on a penalty kicks.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Wambach said in a televised interview after the game. “Japan played well, they never gave up. We had chances throughout the game and we didn’t put them away.”
Pia Sundhage, the USA team coach also shared in the disappointment written all over the faces of her players.
“A couple of mistakes and we let them in the game,” Sundhage said after the game. “It’s hard to lose with PKs (penalty kicks). We couldn’t put away our chances. It’s a small difference between winning and losing.”
After a tumultuous year for their country, televised crowds in Yamato Kangawa, Japan cheered for their team’s big win. Before facing team USA, Japanese coach Norio Sasaki spoke about the importance of bringing a championship to his country this year.
“What we have been doing, so far, is very good for Japan,” coach Norio Sasaki said after the team’s semi-final win. “We’re still recovering from the disaster, the earthquake. So many victims were hit by the disaster. Even little things, like a win, can give people courage and hope.”