World Cup Final: A Stunning Win for Japan, a New World for Women's Soccer

By Sappenfield, Mark | The Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 2011 | Go to article overview

World Cup Final: A Stunning Win for Japan, a New World for Women's Soccer


Sappenfield, Mark, The Christian Science Monitor


Japan beat the US in penalty kicks after the Women's World Cup final ended 2-2. The US dominated much of the game, but Japan's resiliency led it to the historic victory.

There is a question that almost every soccer coach answers after almost every game, whether or not he is asked it directly:

Did your team deserve to win?

It is, on one hand, a ridiculous question. But Japan's victory in penalty kicks after the Women's World Cup final against the US ended 2-2 is a reminder of why the question is so often top of mind after a soccer match - and particularly one of this magnitude.

On one hand, what Japan accomplished was historic in ways well beyond the obvious.

Coming back - twice - against an American team that is ranked No. 1 in the world and was playing arguably its best game of the tournament is simply not something that would ever have been conceivable in women's soccer, perhaps even a month ago. But this Women's World Cup has changed the game utterly, and likely irrevocably.

In soccer terms, the queen is dead. Japan has stormed the Bastille. Insert your revolutionary metaphor here.

And yet there is also no point in suggesting that Japan was the better team, because it was not. Yes, after the 30th minute, the Japanese game did improve, but the team was never truly equals with the US either in the quality of its possession or the danger it created going forward.

And what of those first 30 minutes? The American women left 100 yards of scorched earth behind their furiously churning heels. The US could have scored four and the scoreline would not have flattered them.

Far more than the three missed US penalty kicks or the last- minute Japanese heroics, the game was lost then, when it was not even a third over.

And that is the curious thing about soccer - the blessing to those who love it and the curse to those who do not.

A goal is a miraculous thing.

In the aftermath of the final, one must ask: How did the United States not score? How many posts must be hit, how many near-misses must happen, before eventually, surely, someone must score?

The American first half seemed a scientific test of that very idea.

The chances came from every conceivable player and angle. Carli Lloyd rampaging through the center of the park. Lauren Cheney teasing the Japanese back line with clever runs. Megan Rapinoe dictating play with the full range of her skill set - speed, passing, and two devastating feet.

What can be said of the Japanese is that they did not allow Abby Wambach's head anywhere near the goal. For 104 minutes, they limited the best header of the ball - perhaps in men's or women's soccer - to a single half-chance in the middle of the 18-yard box, falling backward, with a defender virtually sharing her jersey.

She still almost scored.

But in that is perhaps a lesson for these Americans - and the rest of the soccer world. The sum total of the Japanese game plan was to neutralize Abby Wambach's aerial threat. And until Alex Morgan entered in the second half - and in the 69th minute scored a goal from a chance more difficult than many her teammates had spurned earlier - that game plan was working by the only measure that mattered: the scoreline.

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