Japan's resilience and Sawa's heroics prevail

[USA-JAPAN] Many storylines and subplots were played out as Japan beat the USA on penalty kicks (2-2, 3-1) in a electrifying Women’s World Cup final Sunday in Frankfurt, surely the most dramatic women’s international match ever played.

Here are three thoughts in the aftermath of what might be the most dramatic women’s international match ever played:

Pressure cuts both ways. Over being overrun in the first 30 minutes, Japan rallied twice to end overtime tied, 2-2, and then prevailed on penalty kicks, 3-1, to win its first championship in a major soccer tournament at the senior level.

In the first half an hour, the Japanese -- perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion and knowing how their success had captivated a country still rebounding from a tsunami and earthquake in March -- showed little of the poise and polish that had propelled them past Germany and Sweden in the knockout rounds. Pressured incessantly by the U.S. from the first minute, when Lauren Cheney got to the endline to center a ball that was knocked out for a corner, and reeling from incessant attacks, Japan rarely crossed the halfway line.

But by not conceding until the second half, Japan eventually got enough of its attack going to score the goals to survive regulation and extra time tied, and its players were the cooler ones during the penalty-kick shootout. Only one American converted out of four attempts, and Japan hit three of four to prevail.

Wasteful finishing, again, plagues U.S. Despite their success in the tournament, the Americans had squandered numerous opportunities in the group phase -- particularly in the loss to Sweden -- and weren’t all that clinical in the knockout phase while edging Brazil in the quarterfinals and beating France in the semis.

But they kept Japan in the game by blowing chance after chance in the first half. Luck played a role, somewhat, as Megan Rapinoe hit the post and Abby Wambach crashed a majestic left-footed off the crossbar. But Cheney looped a wide-open header over the crossbar, to cite just one example, and during the entire 120 minutes of play only a close-range header from Wambach forced Japanese keeper Ayumi Kaihori into a difficult save when she acrobatically topped the ball over the crossbar.

A low, left-footed laser by Morgan in regulation and a classic Wambach header from a Morgan cross in overtime represented the type of finishing the Americans are capable of. But the Americans, who served up the first equalizer to Aya Miyama with a comical mixup in the back line, missed again in the final seconds after Homare Sawa’s equalizer late in extra time. The USA had a 27-14 edge in shots but the Japanese finished with a 6-5 edge in shots on goal.

Sawa soars. She would have taken Japan’s fifth penalty kick had her country needed her; instead, captain Homare Sawa – in her fifth Women’s World Cup appearance -- lifted the trophy as the tournament's top scorer with five goals and as the symbol of her nation’s resilience and perseverance.

She played a deep-lying role for much of the match, trying to anchor the center and escape the attention of U.S. midfielders Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd. Sawa only rarely influenced the attack until extra time and a few of her untypical giveaways in the middle third could have been costly. Yet she also defended doggedly all over the field and on one occasion tracked a through ball all the way back across Japan’s end line.

In the final minutes, with Japan trailing, 2-1, Sawa raced into the left channel and jumped in frustration when Nahomi Kawasumi couldn’t find her with the final pass. Still, there was enough time for right back Yukari Kinga, who had earlier skulled a good chance provided to her by Sawa, raced down the flank to win a corner when Christie Rampone hacked the ball over the goal line.

Sawa darted to the near post to flick Miyama’s corner kick towards goal. It took a slight deflection on its way into the net, and thus granted one more reprieve by their captain in the 117th minute, the Japanese players wrote the final page of an unbelievable story.

15 comments about "Japan's resilience and Sawa's heroics prevail".
  1. Mario Araujo, July 17, 2011 at 7:29 p.m.

    Congratulations to the Japanese women. With less speed, less height but more skill, they were able to win the cup. Our girls need to look at improving their skill for future world cups. Better passing, better dribbling, and better shooting and a little more luck are need to win the world cup.

  2. David Sirias, July 17, 2011 at 8:03 p.m.

    Look we should not have got past the quarters
    The systemic flaws in assembling this team are well documented in blogs You base your team on a 30 something mid who never goes out and another who is not even the best in WPS and the outcome is predictable
    The macro problem is that we rely on college soccer for youth and the rest of the world is developing young ladies is pro academies
    We need WMLS not in 15 years ... rather much sooner

  3. Charles Stamos, July 17, 2011 at 8:08 p.m.

    Congrats to the Japanese ladies. they hustled and took their time, but managed two goals and had a breakaway erroneously called back on a bogus offside's call. The US suffered on the back line again, with Buehler involved in both of Japan's goals, not clearing the first one (she could have knocked it out near post for a corner, instead she went blindly to the far side causing Krieger to muff a clearance. On the 2nd goal, Buehler was marking Sawa and lost her on a diagonal run to the near post resulting in the flick on for the goal. the US finishing was suspect, not good enough accuracy, and they were unlucky also. As good as we were on PKs in the Brazil game, we blew three today. A good result for the US, great for Japan.

  4. . Lev, July 17, 2011 at 8:11 p.m.

    Great game, congrats to two very different but equally amazing teams - a triumph for the game of women's soccer.

    In the end, however, HUMILITY WON over arrogance.
    Hope-fully, the worlds best GK got it..

  5. Bob Moyer, July 17, 2011 at 8:49 p.m.

    Tough loss for the US side. While the US had greater athleticism, Japan showed great resilience and superior skill. In the US we see the same thing over and over again, bigger players are selected over more technically skilled and disciplined players. The US has one player who is 5'4" - the rest are all taller. 18 of Japan's 21 players are 5'4" and under. One is 5'0". These girls wouldn't even get a look by the US national team, because they would be considered "too small" - regardless of their ability. When will the US begin to develop an appreciation for skill and discipline? Messi is 5'7", isn't he? ........ It seems the US took the bigger, stronger, and faster approach, and forgot the skill, discipline, and intelligence piece. Once this game went to PKs, the US didn't have a chance against Japan's smaller, slower, and weaker, but more technically skilled and disciplined players. If we keep going with the same formula in this country, we're going to get the same results. Good luck in four years.

  6. Kent James, July 17, 2011 at 9:32 p.m.

    If any team were to beat the US, I was glad it was the Japanese, given the hardships that country has faced. The game was about as exciting as they get; it was also a very clean game, giving the referee little to do (but what she had to do, such as the red card, she did well). I had not seen Japan, and heard how skillful they were, so anticipated a game like that against the French, where we might not see much possession. But the US women demonstrated that they can play a skillful game; although the statistics showed that the possession was about even, the US possession was much more dangerous. Yes, it would have been nice to finish some of our excellent chances, but it wasn't like we were blowing shots on an open net. We had great build-up with a variety of different attacks. We probably had 6 shots that were off by a sum total of 2'. We hit crossbar, post, top of the net (Rampone's header that beat the keeper, but was about a foot too far), even low (the shot the keeper got a hand on, which sat so tantalizingly about a foot off the line until the Japanese cleared it). It was just one of those days. While the Japanese may have more skill that the US, they did not show it today. Yes, some players on this team are at an age where they won't be back, so the US will have to rebuild, but this team played some great soccer today, and the team should be proud of their accomplishments.

  7. James Madison, July 17, 2011 at 9:56 p.m.

    Congratulations to the Japan team. The U.S. women played their best soccer of the tournament, but it wasn't enough against a patiently determined group of Japanese women who came from behind once by pouncing on a defensive blunder, much as they did against France, and a second time on a wonderful goal and then won going away on kicks from the mark.

  8. Paul Bryant, July 17, 2011 at 11:22 p.m.

    The Japanese was my dark-horse favorite going into the tournament. I rooted like heck for the U.S. women, but I thought it was a fair result. It's funny, I called every PK by the U.S.; Boxx always goes to her right; Lloyd was going to sky her kick; Why was Tobin Heath taking a PK? Rampone deserved to take a PK. Buhler, unfortunatley has no business being on the field. Why isn't Morgan a starter?

  9. Ronnie j Salvador, July 17, 2011 at 11:53 p.m.

    Great to watch the USA play their best game of the tournament. It showed they are capable of an intelligent / possession type game. For most of the game, they exhibited more skill and discipline than the Japanese. The question to ask is WHY they don’t play this type of game more often.

    Congratulations to the Japanese! Perhaps the result will influence soccer coaches, especially in North America, that size doesn’t matter in the beautiful game. Just another confirmation of what Spain proved with the men in South Africa.

    I realize the TV coverage doesn’t show everything, and perhaps other USA players did the same, but nice display of sportsmanship by Wambach to walk up and shake hands with each Japanese player.
    Bob M., you are correct: most of the Japanese players wouldn’t get a look from the US national team. Actually, they wouldn’t get a look either from most of the top NCAA D1 programs.

  10. John Munnell, July 18, 2011 at 10 a.m.

    Best US performance in the last two years...but still a loss. Sauerbrunn over Beuhler would have made a difference. Injury to Cheney made a bigger impact than we realize, I think. Rapinoe made errors, but was still a big plus. Boxx and Lloyd should have NEVER been taking penalties. All credit to the Japanese and Sawa's wonderful career. And Wambach is pure class!

  11. Marc Silverstein, July 18, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.

    as a referee for 27 years...it's actually properly called kicks from the penalty spot...a penalty kick can only be called during the run of play.

  12. I w Nowozeniuk, July 18, 2011 at 1:25 p.m.

    The Japanese women deserve credit for resilience and their team interplay which on the day was spotty at best..credit the USWNT with wasting more than several golden scoring opportunities...turning the ball over in the MF without too much pressure...when the moment arrives, one has to execute and they didn't.

  13. Paul Bryant, July 19, 2011 at 12:19 a.m.

    Ronnie, you do the Japanese women's team a disservice. There skill and pace, save a couple of U.S. players, is as good as or better than the U.S. team's. They proved they are the best team in the world. That's all that matters!

  14. Ronnie j Salvador, July 21, 2011 at 11:24 p.m.

    Is that how my post reads? No doubt Japan was the best team in the tournament. And had the best player at the tournament in Sawa. I also opine that Japan has the speed to match up with the USA or any other team. My 07/17 post simply tried to say that the USA is capable of also playing a technical/possession game similar to Japan and France if they wanted to. I don’t believe Japan, France, or any other country has a monopoly on technical players. Countries like Germany, Brazil, Sweden, the USA, and perhaps a few others also have technically proficient players. But, it’s not the style they play.

  15. Kent James, July 21, 2011 at 11:31 p.m.

    Ronnie, for what it's worth, I thought your previous post was complimentary to the Japanese.

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