It wasn't to be for the USWNT. For the first time in the history of the Women's World Cup, the United States has ended their tournament with a loss. In all prior tournaments they have finished in either first or third place, but they will have to settle for second tonight, as Japan are champions of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup after winning 3-1 on penalty kicks after extra time finished with the game locked in a 2-2 draw. All three of the first three penalty takers for the USA women's soccer team missed their penalty kicks.
This was also a first, as the United States had never missed in a penalty shootout in the World Cup before this World Cup final. Shannon Boxx, who stepped up first had her effort saved. Japan's first taker, Aya Miyama, converted her penalty. The USWNT's second penalty taker Carli Lloyd skied her shot over the bar, but Hope Solo kept hope alive for the United States when she made a save, keeping it 1-0. Tobin Heath quickly erased that progress, though, as she become the third consecutive USWNT player to miss when she stepped up. Abby Wambach eventually scored to keep the United States alive for one more penalty taker, but Saki Kumagai netted the winner for Japan, giving them the victory 3-1 on penalties.
The first half of the match ended scoreless, but it was the United States who had most of the chances to open the scoring. They produced 12 shots in the first half, with many of them narrowly missing the goal by less than a foot. However, they were only able to put one shot on target - their first shot of the match.
In the second half, the United States opened the scoring when substitute Alex Morgan scored a fantastic far-post finish in the 69th minute after running onto a brilliant long ball from Megan Rapinoe. Their lead would be short lived, though, as Aya Miyama capitalized on poor defending and a botched clearance by Rachel Buehler to score Japan's equalizer, forcing extra time.
Everything appeared to be in the bag for the U.S. women when Abby Wambach scored on a simple, unmarked header in the 104th minute, assisted by Alex Morgan. That lead evaporated in the 116th minute, though, thanks to a goal on a header by World Cup Golden Boot (and probably Golden Ball) winner Homare Sawa, who netted her fifth goal of the tournament to tie the game at 2-2.
Things got a bit dicey for Japan at the end as Azusa Iwashimizu was shown a straight red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity, hauling down Alex Morgan in the 120th minute, but nothing came of the ensuing free kick. Japan went on to win the match in penalty kicks, making Iwashimizu's decision to take a red card for her team look like a fantastic one.
This victory is the first World Cup title for Japan, who had never advanced past the quarterfinals in previous tournaments. The 2011 World Cup marked only their second time in the knockout stages of the competition. Based on the road they took to get to the title, defeating Germany, Sweden and the United States in succession, Japan's win is one of the most impressive accomplishments in the history of world football.
For all of our updates from the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final, check out our World Cup Final StoryStream. Also taking place Sunday are the Copa America quarterfinals, so head over to our Brazil vs. Paraguay StoryStream for updates on that. For all kinds of coverage on world football, check out SB Nation Soccer.