She who hesitates is lost.
All of the close-call wins finally caught up with Team USA. You can only escape the jaws of defeat so many times; only mess with the bull so many times before you inevitably get the horns.
And that is precisely the lesson that the American side learned on Sunday as they ultimately fell to a tremendously resilient Japan squad in penalty kicks.
The U.S. looked to be on the brink of a win late in the game when Alex Morgan caught up with Megan Rapinoe’s long pass, was able to hold off Saki Kumagi, and finished with a deadly accurate score across Ayumi Kaihori with her left foot in the 69th minute. Although the Americans had come close to a number of goals in the first half, it was Morgan’s shot that finally broke the 0-0 deadlock and seemed to be the straw that would break the Japanese side’s back.
Only as they had done many times prior, Japan was not ready to quit just yet. Ten minutes after Morgan’s goal, Aya Miyama capitalized off of Rachael Buehler and Alex Krieger’s inability to clear the ball and nailed in the equalizing score to tie it up at 1-1, and take the game into extra time.
After an aggressive beginning to extra time, things cooled down for a bit. Both teams appeared exhausted and unable to get the signature, big-time play they were hoping for. Then, as she had all game long, Morgan stepped up yet again.
Dribbling past Kumagai, the young California-bred star spotted Abby Wambach fast approaching and delivered the model pass with pinpoint accuracy. Although the defense was stifling and had slowed her down throughout the day, Wambach didn’t hesitate. In what felt like déjà vu, the breakout star of the American team hit her fourth header goal of the tournament and once again gave the U.S. a go-ahead goal that looked as though it could prove to be the clincher.
Still, Japan just wouldn’t quit. After botching an opportunity to take advantage of a massive collapse by the Americans in which Sawa and Nagasato appeared in perfect position to score another equalizer, a bit of bad luck seemed to do what the Japanese could not. Subsequent to a Miyama corner to the near post, Sawa took a leaping backheel attempt which touched off Wambach and flew into the net past the exhausted Hope Solo – tying the game up once more.
In penalty kicks, the U.S. just couldn’t replicate the success that they had against Brazil. In what can only be described a choke-job, Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd all squandered their attempts at making American soccer history -- creating a hole that not even Solo could get them out of.
The victory gave Japan their first FIFA Women’s World Cup in history.