The United States twice appeared to have the Women’s World Cup title in the bag on Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany, but twice Japan came back to tie the score.
It came down to penalty kicks — just as the last U.S. championship in 1999 — but this time Japan came out on top. The score was tied 2-2 after a full 120 minutes (including 30 of extra time), and Japan won the penalty shootout, 3-1.
The U.S. had several really good scoring chances in the first half, but at least five shots either went off the frame or just high. Alex Morgan finally broke through in the 69th minute, but Japan’s Aya Miyama tied it at 1-1 in the 80th after a bad clearing attempt by the U.S. defense.
Abby Wambach, who scored the tying goal against Brazil in the quarterfinals and the go-ahead tally in the semis vs. France, put the United States ahead again on a beautiful cross from Morgan near the end of the first extra period. But Japan’s Homare Sawa redirected a corner kick in the 117th minute to tie it. The U.S. had one final chance off a free kick about a minute before time expired, but the Japanese defense held.
In the penalty shootout, Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath had their strikes turned away by Japan goaltender Ayumi Kaihori, and Carli Lloyd‘s shot sailed over the bar. U.S. goalie Hope Solo saved one shot and got a hand on another but couldn’t stop it from reaching the net. Japan’s Saki Kumagai put away the decisive penalty kick, setting off celebrations across the earthquake- and tsunami-stricken country.