Sunday, July 17, 2011

Penalty pain for USA, as Japan hold their nerve in Women's World Cup Final shoot-out !

Japan celebrate their World Cup success after defeating USA in a penalty shoot-out tonight

Japan became the first Asian nation to win the Women's World Cup, beating the USA in a penalty shoot-out in Frankfurt tonight.

It was a heart breaking end to the tournament for the USA, who were just three minutes away from becoming the first country to lift the trophy for a third time, in what was a truly exhilarating final.

The USA dominated the opening stages. Lively winger Lauren Cheney forced a save from Ayumi Kaihori with a shot from an acute angle, just 25 second into the contest.

On eight minutes, Megan Rapinoe found some space on the left and her excellent near post cross was turned just wide again by Cheney. Barely a minute later, Abby Wambach fired a shot over as USA maintained their bright start.

Then it was Atlanta Beat midfielder Carli Lloyd who had the next chance to break the deadlock. Japan were unable to deal with Shannon Boxx's cross into the penalty area and the ball dropped kindly for the midfielder, but her sweetly struck shot from inside the the box sailed just over.

In the 12th minute Rapinoe then pushed the ball wide at the near post in a move reminiscent of Cheney’s effort a few minutes earlier.

In the 29 minute Wambach, the USA’s all-time top FIFA Women’s World Cup goalscorer, hit a stunning shot from close to the corner of the penalty area which rattled the underside of the crossbar and rolled away to safety.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with the USA looking the far more threatening and the more likely to score.

Alex Morgan who came on at half-time for Cheney immediately imposed herself on the game. Four minutes after coming on the youngster got on the end of a Heather O’Reilly cross, only to see her toe-poked effort come back off the upright.

Then on the hour mark a Wambach header forced an excellent save from Kaihori as USA pushed ever closer to an opener.

However it was Morgan (right, wearing 13) who eventually gave the Stars and Stripes the lead on 69 minutes. A quick counter attack saw Rapinoe play an excellent long ball through for Morgan to run onto. She used her strength to hold off a defender, before the 22 year-old substitute hit a perfectly placed angled drive past the despairing Kaihori. 1-0 USA.

The USA seemed comfortably on course for victory with Japan posing little in the way of an attacking force, but with nine minutes of normal time remaining and against the run of play the Asian side equalised. Rachel Buehler and Alex Krieger failed to clear their lines following a cross from the right, allowing Aya Miyama to smash the loose ball past Hope Solo. USA 1-1 Japan.

So for the fourth time in six FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals, the match went into extra-time.

The USA regained the lead in the 104th minute when Morgan aimed a pinpoint cross towards the towering Wambach. The forward powered home a header from six yards, Wambach's fourth goal of the tournament - all from headers. 2-1 USA

But once again, resilient and stubborn Japan equalised when captain Homare Sawa produced an audacious flick from a corner that left keeper Solo helpless. USA 2-2 Japan

The USA pressed again in search for a late winner. Morgan was en route to scoring her second before she was cynically brought down by Azuza Iwashimizu on the edge of the area, and the full-back received a straight red from German referee Bibiana Steinhaus.

The free-kick came to nothing which was followed by the whistle to signal the end of extra-time and penalty-kicks.

Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath both had their penalties saved by Kaihori, whilst Carli Lloyd completely missed the target, as the USA failed to convert any of their opening three penalties. Although Yuki Nagasato had her effort saved by Solo, Saki Kumagai stayed cool to fire in the decisive spot-kick for Japan as they claimed the FIFA World Cup for the first time.

"We're so happy about the title, now we're number one," said Japan captain Homare Sawa, who won the Golden Boot for top scorer in the tournament with five goals.

Ayumi Kaihori, Japan's goalkeeper added: "We have some very good players on the team and this is why we have been able to win the final. I received excellent support from the other players and I want to emphasise this is a team effort. In the penalty shootout I just had to believe in myself and I was very confident."

USA goalkeeper Hope Solo offered her congratulations to Japan saying: "As much as I've always wanted this, if there were any other team I could give this to it would have to be Japan. I'm happy for them and they do deserve it."

Abby Wambach, the USA striker added: "Japan just kept coming and they never gave up, and in the end they're the world champs."

Match highlights: Women's World Cup Final - USA v Japan on 17th July 2011

Goals: Alex Morgan (USA) 69', Aya Miyama (JPN) 81', Abby Wambach (USA) 104', Homare Sawa (JPN) 117'

Penalty shoot-out:
Shannon Boxx - Saved
Aya Miyami - Goal
Carli Lloyd - Missed
Yuki Nagasato - Saved
Tobin Heath - Saved
Mizuho Sakaguchi - Goal
Abby Wambach- Goal
Saki Kumagai - Goal

Japan beat the USA 3-1 on penalties.

The next Women's World Cup finals will be held in Canada in 2015.

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