Frankfurt, Germany (AHN Sports)
Japan completed its quest for history in unlikely manner, rallying twice from late deficits and pulling out a gutty victory over the United States in the finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup Sunday at Commerzbank-Arena.
Regulation ended 1-1, the score was 2-2 after two 15-minute extra periods and Japan won 3-1 in penalty kicks.
More than four months after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and killer tidal wave left destruction in the country, Japan rose from the ashes of tragedy and delivered an unbelievable campaign, beating powers Germany, Sweden and the USA.
In the finals, Japan showed durability and a never-say-die attitude that enabled them to overcome two one-goal deficits late in the match.
Trailing 1-0 with less than 20 minutes left in regulation, Japan began to employ an aggressive offensive scheme in an effort to score an equalizer and force an extended time.
Aya Miyama solved Japan's problem as the 26-year-old midfielder for Okayama Yunog Belle leveled things up with her short stab into the net in the 80th minute. The goal was made possibke only after two U.S. players botched clearing attempts after goalie Hope Solo misjudged a crossing pass.
Miyama's equalizer changed the complexion of the game which was previously favorable to the vaunted American squad. Japan and the USA both had several chances to nail the game-winner in regulation, but their efforts wound up empty handed.
Knowing they were in for a grueling match, USA coach Pia Sundhage immediately sent her players to the field to keep them pumped up for the extended period. As expected, the Yanks started the extra time with incredible intensity as they tirelessly pushed the ball deep almost in every ball possession.
The Americans finally struck gold in the 104th minute, as veteran Abby Wambach pulled her team ahead with her signature header near the post. Wambach's goal drew cheers from the American crowd at Commerzbank-Arena as the Yanks looked minutes away from claiming their third World Cup title.
Despite the grueling match, Japan never showed signs of exhaustion and fatigue. In another effort to pull off an equalizer, the Japanese relied on Karina Maruyama and Homare Sawa to create scoring opportunities as time ticked to the final minutes.
With less than five minutes left in the match, Sawa - the team's best player throughout the tournament - once again stood up for her team and came up with the equalizer in the nick of time.
Sawa, who racked up a tournament-high five goals and the eventual golden-ball winner, calmly slotted a shot that was partly deflected by Wambach and went pass USA goaltender Hope Solo.
But the road to the title proved to be testy for the Japanese after defender Azusa Iwashimizu was flagged with a red card, leaving Japan with a 10-woman unit in the final play of extra time.
However, the Japanese collectively foiled the last offensive stand from the Yanks to force a shootout.
The Yanks, who were brimming with confidence after a goal by Alex Morgan in the 69th minute, had to accept the fact they had to survive another penalty kick shootout to bag the World Cup title.
The hero in the regulation time, Miyama stepped in and scored on the first penalty kick, giving Japan all the momentum in the shootout.
After a miss by Y'ki Nagasato, Japan managed to score on the next two penalty kick opportunities (Mizuho Sakaguchi and Saki Kumagai), putting pressure on the Americans.
On the other hand, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all squandered their penalty shots, leaving the bench and American crowd in tears.
Wambach converted the lone penalty goal for the Americans, but that was obviously not enough to prevent Japan from winning their first World Cup title in an improbable fashion.
With the win, Japan became the first Asian country to claim the World Cup title and emerge as the No.1 football team in the latest FIFA ranking.
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