Japan Rallies Twice, Wins Women’s World Cup on Penalties

The U.S. took leads in the 69th and 104th minutes of a riveting Women’s World Cup final in Frankfurt yesterday, but could not hold either advantage and eventually lost to Japan in a penalty shootout.

The Americans missed several golden chances in the opening 20 minutes, a period they dominated, and, with better finishing, could have used to put the game out of reach. As it happened, a defensive lapse and soft defending on a corner kick allowed Japan to rally twice, and then a failure of nerve in the shootout ultimately cost the Americans.

Here are the highlights:

Three quick thoughts:

• The U.S. needs more team speed. When they brought on striker Alex Morgan, who does have some wheels, she immediately stretched and put dire pressure on Japan’s backline. Imagine what this approach (and some more speedy attackers) could do against Germany or Sweden in future tournaments.

• With Hope Solo in goal, and the mental toughness they’d shown to that point in the tournament, the U.S. had to like their chances in a shootout. Yet, they gacked it like my former cat coughing up a hairball. Three straight misses! Surprising. And did you see the Japan coach laughing and smiling in the team huddle prior to the penalty kicks? His players were almost as relaxed as that as they took their shots.

• Great story for Japan, which lost some 23,000 citizens to an earthquake and tsunami this year, and great heart from their team to get the win. They played a tidy, technical style and didn’t wilt under the U.S.’s early onslaught.

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U.S. Women Advance to WWC Final with 3-1 Win Over France

The U.S. women’s national team booked a place in the Women’s World Cup final today, downing France 3-1 on goals by Lauren Cheney, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan.

Highlights here:

The Americans got off to a bright start with Cheney’s goal, but France dominated the middle portion of the game—maybe the middle hour of the game—and had several other chances in addition to Sonia Bompastor’s 55th-minute equalizer.

After coach Pia Sundhage brought on Alex Morgan (in the 56th minute) and Megan Rapinoe (64th), the U.S. began to reassert itself. Rapinoe was involved in both second half goals (her pass led to the corner kick that created Wambach’s goal) and was generally instrumental in the win, while Morgan iced it with the third goal in the 82nd minute.

As for Wambach’s winner, nice header and way to get in there and all, but c’mon, that was some terrible goalkeeping. Sacré bleu, Ms. Sapowicz!

The U.S. will play Japan, 3-1 winners over Sweden in the other semifinal, in Sunday’s WWC Final (2:45 ET, ESPN).

Japan and the U.S. have met 25 times before, with the U.S. winning 22 of those games, and the other three ending in draws. So … Japan is due?

Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery Do Justice to Wambach’s Goal against Brazil

Nothing against Ian Darke and Julie Foudy, but we prefer this call of Abby Wambach’s last-gasp equalizer against Brazil in the WWC quarterfinals:

If you didn’t see the game, you missed some high drama, along with a deeply satisfying win for the U.S. Rarely has a team deserved to win as much as they did, having given up a goal, and gone down a player, after a dubious refereeing decision in the 68th minute.

American centerback Rachel Buehler was sent off, and then Brazil’s Marta was allowed to re-take the penalty after Hope Solo stopped her first effort—due to a borderline infraction call on a U.S. player on the initial attempt.

Playing 10 v 11 the rest of the way and into extra time, the U.S. showed superior fitness and were able to snatch Wambach’s 122nd-minute equalizer and win on penalties.

As for the call above, you may notice, among other discrepancies, that Johnson calls Megan Rapinoe “Morrison.” … Yeah, it’s retrofitted from old NCAA hoops broadcasts. But it fits pretty well, we’d say.

Here’s the match report from U.S. Soccer, and here, just for good measure, is a look at Solo’s eyes, which done got us hyp-no-tized:

The U.S. will face France in the semifinals on Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN).