Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Japan fight back twice to win women’s World Cup

AFP, FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Japan’s Homare Sawa celebrates scoring against the US in the women’s World Cup final in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Japan twice came from behind to win the women’s World Cup for the first time on Sunday, beating the US 3-1 in a penalty shootout after the final had finished 2-2 after extra-time.

Japan captain Homare Sawa, who won the tournament’s golden boot, kept her side in the game with a header in the 117th minute after US striker Abby Wambach had put her side ahead early in extra-time after the two sides were locked at 1-1 over 90 minutes.

“I cannot believe this,” said 32-year-old Sawa, who was playing at her fifth World Cup. “We never gave up and played until the last minute, I just kept running until the last moment. We have given all we had. I have always aimed to become world No. 1 and it is hard to believe this is real, but I feel happy. This is the first solid result in my five World Cups and I will go home with the gold medal.”

Japan had defender Azusa Iwashimizu sent off in the 121st minute for a foul on US striker Alex Morgan.

“Our team was very focused and very organized, but it was our first final, so we didn’t really get into the game,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. “At the end of the day, all’s well that ends well. We had lots of messages of support from our home country, thank you very much and thanks to the team.”

In the dramatic shootout, Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalties, before defender Saki Kumagai hit the winning spot-kick.

“We have some very good players on the team and that is why we won the final. It is all down to the players in front of me, it was a team effort,” Kaihori said. “I got support during the shootouts because the Americans missed a couple. In a shootout, I just have to believe in myself and I was very self confident in that situation. I just wanted to save all those shots coming at me.”

The US had taken the lead in the second half of normal time thanks to striker Alex Morgan’s sublime strike, but Japan’s Aya Miyama poached the equalizer after a mix-up in the US defense in the 81st minute.

This was Japan’s first win over the US at the 26th time of trying and it was heartbreak for the Stars and Stripes as they missed out on a third World Cup title, despite dominating Japan for large periods of the game.

“We made just a couple of mistakes. We let them back in the game, but I still think we did well,” US coach Pia Sundhage said. “We had a lot of possession and played some good soccer. It’s hard to lose on penalties, some go in and some go out. It’s a small difference between winning and losing. We just didn’t take our chances.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated her 57th birthday by joining the 48,817 sell-out crowd in Frankfurt, while Jill Biden, wife of US Vice President Joe Biden, and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, were also in the stands.

Japan made it to the final after their shock 1-0 defeat of Germany in the quarter-finals, before they dominated Sweden 3-1 in the last four.

The US followed up a dramatic 5-3 win on penalties over Brazil in the last eight by beating France 3-1 in the semi-finals.

The US controlled the opening 20 minutes as left winger Megan Rapinhoe and forward Lauren Cheney, who replaced striker Amy Rodriguez in the starting lineup, caused havoc, while Wambach hit the crossbar on 28 minutes.

Japan’s first real chance came with 30 minutes gone, but midfielder Kozue Ando fired her shot straight at US goalkeeper Hope Solo.

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