With the way the 2011 Women's World Cup had been going for the US Women's National Team, you almost expected the final match of the tournament to come down to the wire. After Alex Morgan put the USA up in the second half with a wonderfully struck goal, it looked like the US, who had been dominating the run of play, would finally survive a game without needing a late hero. But Japan answered, striking a goal of their own while taking advantage of a US miscue to tie the game and force extra time.
As the 30 minutes of extra time began, the USA and Japan appeared tight, both on the edge while worried about conceding an early goal. But just before the whistle to signal the half, Morgan broke free on the left flank, made a run to the byline and whipped a cross into the six-yard-box. As she's been all tournament long, Abby Wambach was there, ready to put a head to the incoming ball. And with that, the USA had the lead as Wambach's powerful header slammed into the back of the net.
All the USA had to do was protect in the second half of extra time to bring home a third Women's World Cup. The shaky back-line of the USA created some drama of their own throughout the final 15 minutes. A failed clearance in the box left Solo out of position early, and Japan nearly equalized. Somehow, the USA was able to side-step a dangerous chance, but the tense moments weren't over.
Another excellent through-ball in the 115th minute caught Hope Solo off her line, leaving Kinga with an open net after she'd chipped the America keeper. Christine Rampone was there to save the day, however, clearing the bouncing ball off the line and preventing the equalizing goal. But on the ensuing corner, Japan found the back of the net as Homare Sawa threaded the needle for the game-tying goal. Her late equalizer forced a penalty shootout, putting Hope Solo in the spotlight once again. It was 1999, and the team Solo has been trying to get out of the shadow of, all over again.
Shannon Boxx stepped up first, went right and saw her shot just barely tipped away by the foot of Kaihori. Solo guess wrong on Miyama's strike, and the US was at a disadvantage down 1-0. Carli Lloyd was next, and skied her penalty kick over the bar, putting the USA on life-support in the shootout. But Solo kept them alive, parrying the next shot away after diving to her right.
With Japan up 1-0, Tobin Heath stepped up with a chance to finally get on the board, but also saw her shot sent away. The penalty shootout start for the USA was simply disastrous. Solo got a hand on the next kick, only to see it trickle through to give Japan a 2-0 lead.
Abby Wambach kept the USA alive with the first goal in the shootout, but all Japan needed was one more. Sake Kumagai stepped up against Solo, went high and finished the USA's dream run.
The Women's World Cup Final was superb, but ended in heartbreak for Solo and the USA as Japan took the title in a penalty shootout, 2-2 (3-1).