POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 18, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
FRANKFURT, Germany » The Americans stood on the field, watching in stunned silence.
This, they were certain, was their World Cup to win. Through every comeback, to every last second, they never doubted that, somehow, they would emerge as champions.
But the resilience that had carried them so far and captivated their country disappeared when they needed it most. Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all failed to convert penalty kicks, and Japan stunned the Americans 3-1 in a shootout after the U.S. twice blew a lead.
"There are really no words," Abby Wambach said. "We were so close."
Minutes, in fact.
Wambach, whose clutch play against Brazil and France was the reason the Americans were in the final, scored on another header in the 104th minute. But in the 117th, 5 minutes before extra time was to expire, Homare Sawa flicked in a corner kick to tie the game and send it to penalties. It was the fifth goal of the tournament for the 32-year-old, playing in her fifth World Cup.
The Americans had beaten Brazil on penalty kicks in a quarterfinal thriller, but they didn't have the same touch Sunday.
"It's hard to do two rounds of penalties," Wambach said. "The keeper, in a way, knows which way we're going to go."
Though the U.S. is the two-time defending Olympic champion, it has been 12 years since that watershed team in 1999 won the World Cup. This squad was certain it could turn it around.
Even when they went to penalty kicks, the Americans still never doubted themselves.
"This is sports. This is the way it goes," Wambach said. "Unfortunately, it didn't go our way tonight. All of us are devastated."