FRANKFURT - Goalkeeper Hope Solo had kept
the United States alive in the World Cup tournament with one
scintillating performance after another but she knew she was up
against more than just 11 women from Japan on Sunday.
The never-say-die team from Japan played their hearts out
and stunned the dominating Americans in the final, winning 3-1
on penalties after twice rallying with late equalisers first in
regulation time and then in extra-time.
"We lost to a great team, we really did," Solo was quoted
saying on the USA soccer team website.
"I truly believe that something bigger was pulling for this
team," Solo added, referring to an outpouring of support around
the world for the team in the wake of the tsunami disaster.
Japan played with awe-inspiring energy throughout the
tournament and upset one giant after another - including
defending champions and hosts Germany in the quarter-finals and
perennial powerhouse Sweden in the semi-finals.
Twice on Sunday the Japanese women - all of whom were at
least a head shorter than the Americans - found ways to get the
ball post Solo with dramatic late efforts.
Aya Miyama equalised in the 81st minute to send the match to
extra-time and captain Homara Sawa equalised again at 2-2 in the
"As much as I've always wanted this, if there were any other
team I could give this to it would have to be Japan," Solo
added. "I'm happy for them and they do deserve it."
'SO MUCH SELF-CONFIDENCE'
Before winning four of their six matches in this year's
World Cup in Germany, Japan had only once got passed the group
stage in the World Cup - in 1995 where they were beaten 4-0 by
the United States in the quarter-finals.
In five World Cups between 1991 and 2007, Japan had won just
three of 16 matches.
"We're so happy about the title and so happy that we stayed
in the tournament so long," said Homare Sawa, Japan's captain
who won the Golden Ball as the top player and the Golden Boot.
"Now we're number one," Sawa added. "We had so much
self-confidence all the way to the end and we all believed in
ourselves all the way. That's why we won deservedly."
After the improbable victory, the Japanese women carried a
giant banner around the pitch that read: "To our friends around
the world - thank you for your support."
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said her team had played better than
it did in previous matches in the tournament but squandered
chances had cost them dearly.
"It's hard to lose on penalties," she said.
"They kept possession better than in the other games we
played. But we couldn't put away our chances. We created a lot
of good chances in the first half.
"It's a final. There's a small difference between winning
Striker Abby Wambach said the Japanese women would not be
"It's obviously heartbreaking," she said. "Japan played well
and never gave up. Evidently it wasn't meant to be. We worked so
hard. We believed in each other through everything.
"This is going to hurt for a while and I'm proud of our
team. We never gave up. Congratulations to the Japan team. I
think their country is very, very proud of them.
"Japan just kept coming and they never gave up, and in the
end they're the world champs."
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