Just so you know... the next Women's World Cup takes place in Canada in 2015!
But Japan as the defending champion? That's more of a Cinderella story than Cinderella itself!
Japan won the 2011 event held in Germany by outscoring the valiant team from the USA 3-1 on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw.
It was a stunning day of soccer. While Japan was well-deserving of being in the Finals, no one really gave them much of a chance against the powerhouse American squad.
But, in a show of defiance reminiscent of the Asian country's resolve in the face of the March 11, 2011 twin disasters of a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami - not to mention the nuclear plant near-disaster in Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture), Japan twice clawed back from deficits to tie the Americans to get to the penalty kicks.
Heck - even your humble author didn't expect it and had a headline ready proclaiming Japan's loss - which sat out on the world wide web for two minutes before I realized my mistake! I had the content correct, but the headline wrong!
Tough to call Japan an unexpected surprise as they had previously knocked off the favoured Germany team and then the Swedish viking squad on their way to the Finals before defeating the USA to become the first Asian team to win the World Cup.
Japan never made past the quarterfinals of the World Cup prior to
this tournament, while the USA has two titles and three third-place
finishes in the five World Cups played.
This was the third gold-medal match to go to extra time: the USA won in 1999 on penalties and Germany won in 2003 with an
Japan had not beaten the Americans in their first 25 meetings,
including a pair of 2-0 losses in warm-up games a month before the
World Cup. But the Nadeshiko played inspired throughout the tournament,
hoping their success could provide an emotional lift to their nation,
still reeling from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
For the 2011 finals, the first half was scoreless, with USA taking 12 shots to Japan's 5 - although that only had one single shot on goal. Though Japan held a slight advantage in possession it was actually mostly USA pressure and some hard luck that kept the score even.
In the second half, the US renewed its speedy attacks on Japan, with Alex Morgan scoring her second goal of the tournament in the 69th minute.
Megan Rapinoe passed the ball half the length of the field. Morgan who had come on to replace injured Lauren Cheney at halftime, beat
three defenders to get to the ball, to catch up to it. She shook off Japan's Saki Kumagai, touched the ball with her right foot, did a juke stutter-step and launched a left-foot strike from 17 yards out that Japan's goalie Ayumi Kaihori had no chance on.
At this time it should have been all over.
But in the 80th minute, the US couldn't clear a cross properly in the six-yard area, as the ball landed near Japan's Aya Miyama who tapped the ball past a stunned Hope Solo in net for the USA.
Japan then pressured the USA for a few minutes with chance after chance before the USA regauined its composure and began taking the game to Japan.
In first 15 minute period of extra time, the USA's Abby Wambach scored in the 104th minute on a header from Morgan who after a blocked cross attempt, sent it to Wambacj who was standing in front of the goal at t he six-yard line. She was easily a head taller than the Japanese defenders and easily nodded home the ball.
But back came Japan, with top tournament goal scorer Homare Sawa notching her fifth goal of the tourney in the 122nd minute, with about six minutes left (this includes all added on time). Sawa scored from a corner kick.
But when it came to these penalty
kicks, the Americans came undone as Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all failed to convert, with Japanese goalie Kaihori stopping two of the shots.
USA's Boxx shot first, with her shot hitting goalie Kaihori's right leg for the save. Japan's Miyama made hers shooting off foot with her right - which may have thrown US goalie Solo.
Second shot from Lloyd sailed over the net. Japan's second shot was saved.
Third shot from the US's Heath was saved with a great leap and two-hands to the side by Japan's Kaihori. Solo made a save on Japan's third shot.
Forth shot from Wambach was easily buried showing why she is one of the world's best female players.
With five shots for the penalty kick round, Japan needed to score here to win the title. Saki Kumagai did just that putting the ball high in the top right corner.
Every shot Japan took after first was to the right of Solo.
'Not one of the players gave up,'' stated Japanese coach Norio Sasaki, who prior to its quarterfinal game against Germany successfully inspired his players by showing them pictures of
the twin disasters back home in Japan. ''The penalty kicks are always a 50-50 per cent
When Japan was presented with the trophy, the players jumped up and down excitedly before gathering around a sign proclaiming: Champions. World Champions
Nippon Omedeto! Congratulations Japan!