|AP Photo/Jae C. Jong

It seems that poetic justice prevailed at the World Cup! Japan came to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany after the devastating nuclear-plant disaster at home earlier this year that killed many and destroyed much, but the players seem destined to turn that negative into a positive and uplift the spirits of their people. The Japanese delivered the World Cup title as a gift to their country by twice rallying from deficits to defeat the USA, 3-1, in a penalty shootout Sunday.

Led by stalwart captain Homare Sawa – who won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball Awards as the leading scorer (five goals) and most valuable player, respectively, of the tournament – the Japanese fell behind in the 69th minute, 1-0, when Alex Morgan raced onto a long pass from Megan Rapinoe and left Japanese defender Saki Kumagai behind to score a well-taken goal past Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori. The never-say-die Japanese hit back in the 80th minute after a defensive blunder that saw both U.S. defenders, Rachel Buehler and Ali Krieger, fail to clear the ball from in front of their goal; Aya Miyama served up the equalizer for Japan to end the game in a tie after regulation.

In the first of two 15-minute over time periods, U.S. took the lead again, this time through Aby Wambach, who headed in Morgan’s cross in the 104th minute, but as was probably destined, Japan’s captain Sawa tapped in a corner kick in the 117th minute to tie the game for the second and last time to send the contest to a penalty shootout. Japan’s effort in twice rallying from behind was an exercise in determination, focus and patriotism.

In the penalty shootout, the U.S. started with their most senior players, but they failed miserably as 33-year-old midfielder Shannon Box, midfield partner Carly Lloyd and substitute Toby Heath took turns in missing their shots; Japan scored two of its first three to lead for the first time. Wambach scored her shot to keep the shootout alive with a sliver of hope for the U. S., but when 20-year-old substitute Ayumi Kaihori scored, Japan took an unbeatable 3-1 lead with only one U.S. player to kick.

Japan was not expected to even reach the quarterfinals, but throughout the tournament, it changed hearts and minds on the way to winning its first World Cup. Japan pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the quarterfinals when it defeated two-time World Cup champion and highly favored hosts, Germany, then knocked off another favorite, the undefeated Sweden, before bringing big hearts and a fighting spirit that was second to none, into the final, in a game, where for the third time, they were the underdogs.

It was Japan’s first ever win over the U. S. in 26 tries; the U. S. was seeking its third World Cup title after winning the first tournament in 1991, then beating China in the memorable penalty-kick shootout in front to 90,000-plus fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (CA) in 1999. German and Norway are the only other World cup winners.

The U.S. team saved its best game for last; it was the Americans’ best effort in the tournament, and they created enough chances to win the game in regulation and in overtime, the last coming on a free kick by Lloyd after Japanese defender Azusa Iwahimizu fouled Morgan just outside the penalty area and received a red card, but it seems that Japan’s will to put the recent devastation behind was too much for any team to overcome. Despite the Japan’s victory, there really were no losers in one of the most remarkable games in the history of the sport.

Cosmos Copa NYC

Jamaica Loses

The Cosmos Copa NYC Jamaica team was beaten, 2-1, by England and was knocked out of the Cosmos Copa NYC tournament in Sunday’s quarterfinals at Corona Park in Flushing Meadow, N.Y. In other results, Senegal defeated Haiti, Mexico topped Ireland and defending champion Poland was scheduled to play Greece.

MLS Red Bulls Tie

Despite having new signee, goalkeeper Frank Rost, in goal, the New York Red Bulls could only manage a goalless draw against hosts Chivas USA last Saturday night. A very flat Red Bulls team showed little spark coming off its 4-0 defeat to Chicago in the U. S. Open Cup last Wednesday night. New York managed less than six shots on goal; the team has only one win in its last seven games. The New York Red Bulls will host FC Dallas at Red Bull Arena next Saturday.

In other MLS games last Saturday, San Jose Earthquakes and the Columbus Crew and also DC United and FC Dallas played to goalless draws in their matches; Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo played to a 1-1 tie; hosts Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids had a goal feast Saturday at CenturyLink Field as the Sounders twice rallied from deficits to beat the defending champion Rapids, 4-3.

Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales were among the scorers for Seattle, which will play England Premier League champion Manchester United in an exhibition game Wednesday night. The Portland Timbers topped the Chicago Fire, 1-0; Chicago is winless in its last six games. The scheduled Real Salt lake and Vancouver Whitecaps game was postponed because of field conditions.

Brazil, Argentina

Out Of Copa

Paraguay defeated defending champion and eight-time winner Brazil, 2-0, Sunday in the quarterfinal penalty shootout of the Copa America semifinals; the teams played to a goalless draw in regulation and overtime despite Brazil’s domination throughout.

Paraguay will face either Chile or Venezuela in the semifinals, scheduled for Tuesday, July 19. Uruguay and Peru, which eliminated Colombia on Saturday, will meet in the other semifinal Tuesday. Uruguay set back Argentina, 5-4, in penalty shootout to advance. The game was tied, 1-1, after regulation. Argentina and Uruguay have each won this event 14 times, and Brazil has won eight championships.

apan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, 2nd from bottom, grabs the ball after a failed US scoring chance during the final match between Japan and the United States at the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, July 17, 2011.
AP Photo/Michael Sohn
AP Photo/Jae C. Jong