Japan edge USA for maiden title

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Japan are FIFA Women?s World Cup? champions for the first time after a penalty shootout victory over USA, following a drama-charged 2-2 draw in Frankfurt.

Defender Saki Kumagai had the honour of hitting home the decisive spot-kick as Japan triumphed 3-1 in the shootout. USA were twice pegged back but it took Homare Sawa to equalise three minutes from the end of extra time to force penalties.

USA created numerous goalscoring opportunities throughout the match but Aya Miyama?s goal nine minutes from the end of the 90 minutes forced extra time, after Alex Morgan had given the Stars and Stripes the lead on 69 minutes. Abby Wambach seemed set to have scored the winner on 104 minutes until Sawa?s late intervention.

The tone was set for a strong USA performance with the two-time world champions showing their intent from the opening whistle. Lauren Cheney forced a save from Ayumi Kaihori with a shot from a highly acute angle, after the forward had outmuscled Azusa Iwashimizu just 25 second into the contest.

On eight minutes, Megan Rapinoe found some space on the left and her excellent near post ball was turned just wide by Cheney. Barely a minute later, Wambach fired a shot over as USA maintained their bright start.

Carli Lloyd could then easily have opened the scoring when Japan were unable to deal with Wambach?s presence under a high early cross into the penalty area. The ball fell kindly for the midfielder but she blazed narrowly over the crossbar from 15 metres.

Rapinoe then pushed the ball wide at the near post in a move reminiscent of Cheney?s effort a few minutes earlier.

Unlike recent matches, Japan were struggling to maintain any possession in midfield. USA kept up their attacking raids as the lively Rapinoe burst into the area on the left and blazed a shot against the outside of Kaihori?s post.

The match started to settle by the midway point of the opening half, and Japan finally had their first shot of note on 22 minutes, but Shinobu Ohno?s strike was wayward.

The moment of the first half came on 29 minutes as Wambach, USA?s all-time top FIFA Women?s World Cup goalscorer, hit a stunning shot from close to the corner of the penalty area which rattled the underside of the crossbar and away to safety, with Kaihori well beaten.

Japan finally displayed some of their semi-final form just past the half-hour mark as Ohno threaded a pass behind the defence, but Kozue Ando was unable to get power on her effort from a good shooting position.

Cheney then pushed a looping header onto the roof of the net after a long ball deceived a static Japan backline.

USA commenced the second half in much the same way they did the first. Just four minutes after the interval, Heather O?Reilly crossed from the right and Morgan, who came on for Cheney during the break, pushed her near post effort against the post.

O?Reilly then blasted a shot against the side-netting from distance, while Wambach skied a good opportunity after being set free by a delightful Rapinoe ball.

Just past the hour mark, Sawa, enjoying a rare moment of time on the ball in the attacking third, threaded a smart pass for Yukari Kinga but the defender?s shot was well wide.

Minutes later Wambach?s smart header forced an excellent save from Kaihori as USA pushed ever closer to an opener.

Deadlock finally broken

Finally USA secured reward for their dominance with the opening goal on 69 minutes as Morgan broke the deadlock with her second of the tournament. A quick counter attack saw Rapinoe play an excellent ball through for Morgan to use her strength to hold off a defender, before hitting a perfect finish past Kaihori.

The 22-year-old Morgan again proved herself as a player for the big occasion, having hit the winner for USA against Korea DPR in the final of the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women?s World Cup.

Japan equalised somewhat against the run of play 12 minutes later as a cross from the right caused chaos in the USA defence, with Miyama taking full advantage to push the ball past Hope Solo from close range.

The match was end-to-end in the remaining minutes with Kinga and O?Reilly both firing good efforts in on goal without being able to break the deadlock. So for the fourth time in six FIFA Women?s World Cup Finals, 90 minutes proved not enough to find a winner.

The match continued in an open fashion and at a high tempo following the recommencement. Morgan carved out the first opening of extra time only to shoot askew after getting the better of two defenders.

USA again took the lead one minute prior to the end of the opening period of extra time. Wambach powered home a bullet header from close range following Morgan?s precise cross. It was Wambach?s fourth of the tournament, all from headers.

With five minutes remaining, Kinga pushed the ball past the onrushing Solo with only a clearance from retreating captain Christie Rampone denying an equaliser.

However, from the ensuing corner, Sawa equalised by diverting Miyama?s corner with just three minutes remaining. The goal not only ensured the match would be decided by penalties but lifted Sawa into the outright lead as top goalscorer, with five goals. Iwashimizu was then sent off for a professional foul as time ran out.

Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath failed to convert USA's opening three penalties, and while Yuki Nagasato had her effort saved, Japan were not to be denied as Asia claimed the title for the first time.

Player of the match: Ayumi Kaihori (Japan)


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