Japan Defeats U.S. In Women's World Cup Final

Japan became the first Asian nation to win the Women's World Cup on Sunday, beating the United States in a penalty shootout after both sides were level at 2-2 after extra time. The Japanese denied the U.S. team the chance to become the first nation to lift the cup three times.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It is Japan's World Cup.

RAZ: That is the sound of heartbreak - the U.S. women's soccer team losing the World Cup today to Japan. It came down to penalty kicks after the game ended in a 2-2 tie.

NPR's Mike Pesca is on the line with me now from Frankfurt in Germany. Mike, heartbreaking, yes, but what a match.

MIKE PESCA: It was. What a match. And for a long time, American fans where I was watching the game here in an outdoor park were saying, what is going on with this match? Because for an hour, the United States were just hammering the ball towards the goal, near the goal, over the goal, on the side of the goal, but never in the goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PESCA: It was really United States dominance for the first half, and then a good part of the second half. But in the 69th minute, finally, the United States got on the board. Alex Morgan put a shot in from the great cross or a great pass, outlet pass by Megan Rapinoe.

And that - and it's fairly late in the game, and the Japanese, though they had their chances, they were pretty much being stymied by the America defense, especially Hope Solo, who had a great game in goal, as she usually does. So it seemed that the 69th minute that maybe this will be it, you know, 20 minutes more soccer. It was a long way from it.

RAZ: Indeed, Mike. As you say, in the 81st minute, Aya Miyama of Japan equalized to take the game into overtime.

PESCA: Yeah. It wasn't really the case that the United States drop back. But a little oomph did seem - technical soccer term there - little oomph did seem to go out of them. And, yeah, 12 minutes after Alex Morgan scored, there was a scrum or a scramble in front of the U.S. net, a ball wasn't clear and Miyama put the ball in. So this takes it into an overtime. And the way they play it in international soccer is it's not sudden death or the soccer term is golden goal. They play a half hour regardless of what happens.

And in the first part of the overtime period, the great Abby Wambach, whose head has been the source of so many American goals over the years, she's 5'11", but she actually crouched down to get across from, again, Alex Morgan, and she put the ball in the back of the net. The celebration, though, wasn't ebullient. It was more like, OK, guys, we know what we have to do. We still have about 10 minutes, 15 minutes left in this game. Let's get it done. And they couldn't.

RAZ: Hmm. Indeed, with just four minutes left in overtime, the Japanese scored again to equalize 2-2, takes them into - it took them into penalty kicks and then, of course, that's when the Japanese women's team won.

PESCA: Yes. And going into penalty kicks, perhaps the thought was, you know, the United States in that great quarter final game against the Brazilians, they not only scored - they scored on all of their penalty kicks, they put all their shots on goal. So you have to be a little bit confident just because the U.S. has been in this position.

But remember what the story of the game had been thus far, which is the United States missing the goal. And that's what happened. Shannon Boxx, there was a kick - brilliant kick save on the first American penalty kick, Japanese make. Carli Lloyd put the ball over the net. So here, the United States have botched their first two kicks.

Hope Solo helped things out. She made her first save on the Japanese' second kick. But then Tobin Heath also kicked - the keeper - the Japanese keeper made a save on Heath. So three shots without three goals. Penalty kicks in international soccer, an 85 percent proposition. You can't miss the first three and expect a win.

And, in fact, the Japanese, you know, they scored enough. Hope Solo got a hand on a ball later, but it went in and the Japanese wound up winning on PKs. That's the way it goes.

RAZ: Mike, in the 30 seconds that we have left, I watched this game, you watched this game. In terms of the playing, how does this match compared to that legendary 1999 World Cup, which was the last time the U.S. women won?

PESCA: In a way, it's unfair to compare. Every element was in favor of the United States, a magical time. And we thought we were going to see that just because the way the United States beat the Brazilians and the make up of this team so compelling, personality-wise.

But I'm going to tell you a big secret, Guy. They don't put in the Sports Illustrated commemorative videos, luck is unbelievably important in the world of sports. And the United States did not have luck on its side today.

RAZ: NPR's Mike Pesca from Frankfurt, Germany. Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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