FRANKFURT, Germany >> Japan defeated the United States 3-1 in a penalty shootout after the matched finished 2-2 at the end of extra-time Sunday to be crowned women’s world champions for the first time in the country’s history.
A second-half goal from substitute Alex Morgan looked to have given the Olympic champions victory in regulation time in Frankfurt but a late equalizer from Aya Minama sent the World Cup final into extra-time.
Abby Wambach put the U.S. ahead once again in the 104th minute but Homare Sawa leveled for Japan with three minutes of extra-time remaining.
There was still time for Azusa Iwashimizu to be sent off for a foul before the game went into a penalty shootout where Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalties and Saki Kumagai netted the all-important spot-kick to give Norio Sasaki’s side a shock win.
"It’s not possible to explain, sometimes they go in, sometimes not," said a disappointed U.S. coach Pia Sundhage after seeing her team miss four of their penalties. "We should have used the chances we had."
The U.S. went into the game at the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt as strong favorites having twice been crowned world champions, in 1991 and 1999, while Japan were contesting their first ever World Cup final.
The Americans started the stronger and almost went ahead in the opening minute when Lauren Cheney broke into the penalty area from the left. The chance came to nothing, however, as the striker looked to beat Kaihori from a tight angle instead of passing to the better positioned Abby Wambach.
The pressure continued to come almost exclusively from the U.S. and Sundhage’s side almost went ahead on the 29th minute but Wambach saw her fiercely struck shot from the edge of the area come back off the crossbar.
Japan’s best chance of the half fell to Kozue Ando two minutes later when she was put through by Shinobu Ohno but the midfielder fired weakly at Hope Solo in the U.S. goal.
Cheney, who was replaced by Morgan because of injury at half-time, had one more opportunity to put the U.S. ahead in the 34 minute but headed over.
The first opportunity of the second half also fell to the U.S. in the 49th minute when Heather O’Reilly’s cross was met by the outstretched foot of Morgan, who saw her shot hit the base of the near post before being cleared by Japan captain Sawa.
Japan continued to struggle to find their feet in the game and the U.S. eventually deservedly broke the deadlock in the 69th minute when a long ball from her own half by Megan Rapinoe found Morgan, who fired home from 16 meters to make it 1-0.
But just as the U.S. looked to be cruising to victory, Japan netted an unexpected equalizer in the 80th minute when Alexandra Krieger in the American defense failed to clear her lines and Miyama took full advantage, poking the ball home from close range to make it 1-1.
Neither side managed to conjure a winner in the remaining 10 minutes, sending the tie into extra-time where Wambach’s header in the 104th minute looked to have secured the win once again until Sawa made it 2-2 with just over three minutes left.
There was still time for Iwashimizu to receive a straight red from referee Bibiana Steinhaus before the dramatic penalty shootout where the US managed just one successful spot-kick from four attempts to give Kumagai the chance to write soccer history for Japan.