Wasted chances, defensive mistakes undo Americans, Japan captures Women's World Cup.
By Robert Wagman
(Sunday, July 17, 2011) -- Throughout this Women's World Cup, the United States women squandered numerous scoring chances. In the tournament final, this failure finally cost them, preventing them from seizing early control of today's match with Japan.
When the Americans were finally able to score, they were undone by a defense that failed to protect leads late in regulation and again in extra time. Resultantly, the U.S. fell to Japan 3-1 in tiebreaking penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw through 120 minutes before 48,817 at Women's World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany.
The U.S. could have scored multiple goals in the opening 10 minutes and it failed on other chances before it gained its first lead after reserve striker Alex Morgan scored on an assist from midfielder Megan Rapinoe in the 69th minute. That advantage lasted 11 minutes before Japan tied the match at 1-1 with Aya Miyama putting away a point-blank shot after sliding U.S. defender Rachel Buehler sent her clearance off teammate Ali Krieger and left a sitter for Miyami.
Thirty minutes of extra time followed and the U.S. seemed to take control when forward Abby Wambach headed home Morgan's cross for a 2-1 lead in the 104th minute. However, Japan defender Miyama's left-side corner kick went to superstar midfielder Homare Sawa whose close-in flick deflected off Wambach and past goalkeeper Hope Solo, now going the wrong way, for the equalizer at the near post in the 117th minute.
In the quarterfinal victory over Brazil, the U.S. made all five penalty kicks to advance, as they did to capture the 1999 World Cup final over China. Today, the Americans could do little right in the tiebreaker, missing their first three attempts. Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath both had their efforts saved by Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, while Carli Lloyd skied hers over the crossbar. U.S. keeper Hope Solo, meanwhile, could only save one.
Saki Kumagai perfectly sent her kick into the top left corner, giving Solo no chance and securing Japan's first World Cup title.
"It's obviously heartbreaking," Wambach said. "Japan played well and never gave up. It's unfortunate that we couldn't pull it out. It's tough to do penalties (in two games in the tournament) because the (Japan) keeper knows where we're going and she made some great saves. We had so many great chances throughout the game and we didn't put them away."
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage made an unusual change at the start. She benched forward Amy Rodriguez, replacing her with wide midfielder Megan Rapinoe and pushing Lauren Cheney to a withdrawn striker position in a kind of 4-4-1-1 formation.
The U.S. started strong immediately and dominated the first 45 minutes at both ends. In the offensive end, it created chance after chance, while on the defense the Americans constantly pressured the ball so that Japan was never able to get into its short-passing offense.
Yet, the U.S. was again haunted by poor finishing with Cheney alone in position to score twice in the opening 10 minutes. The Americans should have had a multi-goal lead by halftime.
The second half was much like the first. The Japan went into more of a defensive shell, giving the U.S. fewer chances. But the insertion of Alex Morgan gave the Americans more speed on top and the youngest player on the squad provided a lead in the 69th minute.
That should have been enough, but almost comical miscues in the box allowed Japan to draw level. After Wambach had put the U.S. ahead again in the first of two 15-minute overtime periods -- in the 104th minute -- poor American marking allowed the Japanese to almost tie before knotting the count three minutes before time.
For 80 minutes, the U.S. played easily its best match of the competition. It created chance after chance on attack, while giving up almost nothing on defense. But in the end, it was Japan, 0-22-3 against the Americans before today, which raised the World Cup, while the U.S. failed in its attempt to become the first nation to win the Cup three times.
"We don't feel like we got beat out there. It's just that we got a little unlucky and Japan fought hard," U.S. defender Christie Rampone said. "It's something that we have to digest and remember the feeling and work on stuff going into the (2012) Olympics."
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo -- 5: Failed to make the saves she needed to and came up short in penalty kicks, allowing one to squirt under her outstretched hand. She might have gotten to the ball that resulted in the first Japan goal and stopped the play that resulted in Japan's second tying tally. Otherwise, she was strong and was especially good coming off her line.
Defender Amy LePeilbet - 5.5: She continued to get better as the competition progressed. She might have done more to head off the play that ended up in the first Japanese goal, but otherwise she did well.
Defender Christie Rampone - 6: An inspirational performance. She ran from start to finish and was again the anchor of the U.S. defense.
Defender Ali Krieger - 4: A terrible final 10 minutes of regulation offset what was otherwise a good showing. At the moment she needed to have her wits about her, she could not clear a ball even though she was under no pressure.
Defender Rachel Buehler - 4.5: Played a generally steady game in the back making a number of key plays covering for teammates who were pulled out of position, but she could have cleared the entry pass to what became the first Japanese goal. Later, she was beaten for the header that led to Japan's second.
Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 5: Was a steady influence in the midfield throughout the match, doing nothing flashy, but able to control play and stop Japanese counter-attacks. Her penalty-kick effort was dismal.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 6: Played probably her best match of the competition, but in the end had little to show for it. She shot at times when she should have passed, and she should have converted at least one of those shots.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe 6.5: For most of the match, she was the workhorse for the U.S. down the left flank and made great passes all night, especially on Morgan's goal. In the first half, she was the best American player.
Midfielder Heather O'Reilly - 6: She demonstrated both speed and determination, getting into the offensive end to deliver good crosses before quickly getting back to help the defense. She was another player who might have had more to show for her effort.
Forward Lauren Cheney - 4: At some point in the first half, probably early, she twisted an ankle that saw her replaced at halftime. Maybe that is an explanation for as poor a finishing exhibition any U.S. player had displayed in the tournament -- and that is saying a lot.
Forward Abby Wambach -- 7: Always steady, always there. She had an exemplary match, not only scoring the go-ahead goal in extra time, but doing so much of the hard work on top and in the midfield.
Forward Alex Morgan (46th minute for Cheney) - 7.5: The young forward had a goal and an assist, causing the Japanese defense all kinds of problems. U.S. fans are left to wonder what she might have done had she started.
Midfielder Tobin Heath (112th minute for Rapinoe) - 5: Had a chance for a winner, but could not convert and then her penalty attempt was woeful.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Alex Morgan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.
©Copyright 2011 SoccerTimes.com. All Rights Reserved