Japan defeated the USA 3-1 on penalty kicks after the thrilling 2011 Women's World Cup Final ended 2-2 at the conclusion of extra time. Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach each scored for the United States, but it wasn't enough as the Japanese came back from behind twice to conclude their great story, and to end the Americans' chances at a third all-time World Cup title.
The USA went scoreless in the first half despite countless excellent opportunities. The number of wasted chances certainly came back to haunt the Americans, but numerous questionable decisions from head coach Pia Sundhage stand out as well. It was strange to see Megan Rapinoe starting on the left wing after she'd done so well as a substitute previously, and leaving Amy Rodriguez and Lori Lindsey on the bench when Japan kept creating chances from the midfield was also odd. And of course it may have also been wrong to choose to use Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd as the first two penalty takers after they'd each had disappointing games and took kicks previously against Brazil.
Which reminds me... Had the referee got right one of the calls on one of Brazil's goals and the U.S. won their quarterfinal match either in regulation or the end of extra time, the Japanese goalkeeper wouldn't have had any tape on Boxx, Lilly, or any of the others. Penalty kicking is a very mental skill, and Japan had a definite mental advantage.
We could see lots of turn over for the U.S. after this loss. Wambach, Boxx, and Christie Rampone are likely playing in their final Wolrd Cup. But the USA's roster is still fairly young. And future-turned-present star Alex Morgan is only 22 years old. If she can learn how to best time her runs to go with her speed, Morgan could be an incredible force internationally. Other key contributors like Rapinoe, Rodriguez, Hope Solo, Lauren Cheney, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Rachel Buehler are all just in their mid-20s and should continue to improve. The U.S. will be back.
But this sure had the feel of a magical year. They had a miraculous run, but Japan's miraculous run was even better.