Yesterday’s Womens Soccer World Cup final was a wonderful , wonderful match with a surprise ending . It was an absorbing game , a clean keenly contested game and even though we lost , we cannot be too unhappy with the result seeing what it means to the Japanese nation .
I’d not seen any of Japan’s prior games . So , all I knew about them was that the Japanese had a precision passing game that enabled them to control the ball for long stretches and that they never , never gave up, often coming from behind to snatch victory . After the U.S victory over Brazil in the quarters , I think I , and most other observers , could be pardoned for feeling that this American team was somehow destined to win the Cup. After the way they battled Brazil , playing shorthanded for much of the game, after the way they overcame some dodgy decisions by the referee , how could they not win ?
For most of the match yesterday , it seemed like they were going to . They could have been up by two goals or more even before halftime. Several times they came oh-so-close , denied by the thinnest of margins as the ball glanced off a goalpost or hit the crossbar . What was most surprising was the way in which their swarming defense negated the Japanese passing attack , forcing the Japanese to punt the ball out of danger. Meanwhile they were constantly on the attack , constantly moving forward . Any Japanese counterattacks were far and few between and against the run of play. When the U.S did score it came on a beautiful play as Alex Morgan , at 22 the youngest player on the U.S team , got behind the Japanese defense and rocketed a left footed kick past the Japanese goalie. At that point , I thought the goal would be enough but the Japanese proved me wrong . They began to attack more and I think the pressure got to the U.S team a little. In the 81st minute , only nine minutes away from a U.S victory the Japanese struck . A U.S defender tried to clear the ball away from the goal line only to see it carrom off another U.S player to the feet of an onrushing Miyami . She didn’t make a mistake , giving Hope Solo no chance , as she tapped the ball into the net.
Once again , in OT , I thought the U.S had the game won as Abby Wambach scored on one of her patented headers in the 104th minute. But once again , the Japanese seemed to gain strength as the U.S seemed to panic. With only about 3 minutes to go to the end of OT , the veteran Homare Sawa tied the game in the mêlée following a corner kick. It was a nail-biting 3 minutes till the end of OT as the Japanese seemed more likely to score than the Americans .
Hope Solo is the best goalie in the world and I thought the U.S would have the edge in a shootout but I was wrong . The first three U.S players all missed ( Shannon Box had her shot kicked away by the goalie Kaihori; Carlie Lloyd ballooned the ball over the net and then Kaihori made another save, on Tobin Heath) and that put the shootout out of reach . Amby Wambach did score on the next shot and Hope Solo did make one save but it was too little , too late.The Japanese won the shootout and took home the Cup.
It is a cliche to say about a game that there were no losers but , in the case of this game , it is the truth. The U.S women dominated most of the game and gave it their all . They have nothing to be ashamed about.Their stirring quarterfinal win over Brazil will be talked about for years to come . As for the Japanese women , no praise can be too high . Back on n their heels for most of the game , they never gave up against a taller, more physical side and twice came from behind to force the shootout and to win it . Prior to this year’s tournament , they’d never beaten a European side , any European side . In the World Cup , not only did they beat powerhouses Sweden and France , they also overcame the No. 1 ranked Americans . In doing so , they uplifted the spirits reeling from the shock of the recent tsunami and the ensuing nuclear disaster. If the U.S could not win the championship , I’m glad Japan did . As one of the U.S players , Carli Lloyd , said after the match “If any other country was to win this, then I’m really happy and proud for Japan. Deep down inside, I really thought it was our destiny to win it. But maybe it was Japan’s.”
Prior to yesterday’s match , commentators were talking about the impact a U.S victory might have on U.S soccer . Their feeling was that it might finally allow the sport to become mainstream , eventually to compete with basketball , baseball and football. That may still happen as yesterday’s final was a good advertisement for the game and it was played by native-born players, not foreign imports.
It is interesting to think of the impact of the impact the Japanese women’s victory will have on Japan . Not only on Japanese sports , but on the status of women there. Women in Japan , though long emancipated , do not have nearly the same opportunities as women in the Western nations . Prior to WWII , they were wholly subservient to men and , subsequently , their standing has only improved very slowly. When we were in Japan ten years ago , we were on a bus trip from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji when the tour guide , a Japanese woman , surprised us .She said that one of the good things to come about as a result of the Japanese defeat in WW II was that it immeasurably improved the lot of Japanese women , enabling them to leave the confines of the house. Even now , women have restricted roles in corporate life since they are thought of as only being short timers , who will quit as soon as they get married. Perhaps , yesterday’s World Cup victory will enable them to claim their rightful due as equal partners in society and the corporate culture, not just in sports.