The United States twice gave away leads, and series of poor penalty takes opened the door for Japan as they captured the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The match was dominated for large portions by the United States. The first twenty minutes saw the Americans squander at least 5 quality chances inside the area, only to miss target. Most of the American success was enjoyed on the left flank. Megan Rapinoe was able to beat the right back Kinga on a number of occasions.
It took more than an hour for the goals to come. After a failed Japanese run forward, Rapinoe collected the ball near her area in the 69th minute, and sent a long, arcing ball to 2nd half substitute Alex Morgan. She was able to muscle her way around the defender, and her shot beat Kaihori for the opener.
The United States appeared to be on their way to victory, but with less than 10 minutes remaining the Japanese took advantage of a series of defensive lapses. The US Captain, Christie Rampone, tried to start an attacking thrust, but her pass was intercepted in the midfield. After playing up the right flank, substitute Karina Maruyama crossed the ball near Hope Solo’s goal. After two misplayed clearance attempts by Rachel Buehler and Ally Krieger, the ball came to Aya Miyama and she put the easy 6 yard attempt into the goal. Regulation time ended tied at 1.
In extra time, the US continued to dominate the possession, with Japan nipping back and getting opportunities on the counterattack. The second US goal was a product of returning to the left flank they ruled early. Morgan accepted a pass from Rapinoe towards the end line, and her cross was pounded home off Abby Wambach’s head to put the US up 2-1, with a little over 15 minutes remaining in extra time.
The US again struggled to maintain their defensive composure with the lead. At least two lapses in the defensive third nearly gave Japan their equalizer, but that eventually came off a corner kick opportunity. Japanese Captain Homare Sawa deflected the corner on its way by, and the ball glanced off Wambach’s chest before resting in the goal. The closing seconds of the match saw Japan take a red card, as Iwashimizu tackled Morgan running in on goal alone in stoppage time. Unfortunately for the Americans, they could not take advantage of the direct free kick right outside the area.
The 2-2 score held until the end of extra time, so penalties ensued. The United States had to take first, and Shannon Boxx’s effort was not good and was blocked by Kaihori. After Miyama converted her attempt for Japan, Carli Lloyd stepped up and skied one clear over the goal. At 2-0, a save by Solo on Yuki Nagasoto’s try gave the US hope. That glimmer was snuffed out when substitute Tobin Heath’s kick was low and not nearly hard enough to beat Kaihori. The final three takers were successful, but Kumagai’s shot sealed the victory for Japan.
There are several strategic questions that come to mind about this match:
1) Why did it seem that US Coach Pia Sundhage played for penalties, even after gaining the lead? The US had one substitute remaining, and another defensive midfielder like Lori Lindsay may have helped a spent defense to prevent the troublesome crosses that Japan threw their way.
2) Why did the US seem to abandon the left flank for much of the 2nd half? We had quite an advantage, and yet we seemed to try long ball way too much.
3) Where was Wambach on the free kick resulting from the red card? The complicated set play nearly worked, but it seemed like a clutch player like Wambach taking the shot would be the choice (remember Christine Sinclair against Germany?).
4) Why would you choose Boxx to lead off the penalties again? She missed the first one against Brazil, and was granted a second chance by the referee. With attacking players like Alex Morgan, Heather O’Reilly, or even Wambach available, why begin with a defensive midfielder who has shown a penchant for being nervous over the big shot?
In any event, the United States’ run in Germany is over. It was a great tournament, with plenty of intrigue and lots of viewership. You saw giants fall, especially Germany, and ultimately the United States. Sawa captured the Golden Ball, especially well-earned after tying the match late in extra time. It’s not the ending American fans were seeking, but they played a good tournament. They did have lapses against Sweden and Japan. Those were costly; the mistakes to Sweden forced the Americans into a long shootout with Brazil. The errors against Japan cost them the championship, and it will be tough to forget the disappointment.