Women's World Cup 2011: Japanese Win Final, Write the More American Story

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Women's World Cup 2011: Japanese Win Final, Write the More American Story
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
The Japanese beat the Americans in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, and in their own, heartwarming and storytelling game.

The premise was bigger than James Cameron could handle, and the undercurrent too strong for Martin Scorsese. And try as he may, Michael Bay couldn't replicate the action of this FIFA Women's World Cup Final, even bazillions of dollars and explosions and CGI.

The Japanese Women's National team was the better team in today's 2-2, 3-1 shootout win.

And the richer, more American story.

In 90 minutes of frustration, jubilation and confusion for the U.S., it was lighter and easier on the Japanese. They let themselves smile before kickoff. They gave you that intimacy.

They played as people first, sports stars somewhere far behind.

However much it lagged in your mind, their talent didn't cower from the moment. They didn't prune from the drowning support of a 48,000-plus, pro-American crowd wedged inside Dresden. They didn't shield their eyes from glimmering star power of Hope Solo and Abby Wambach and SportsCenter pub heard 'round the world.

A 0-22-3 record against the Americans, winners of three this season and the last nine in head-to-heads with Japan? Having lost to England in group play, something no Cup winner has ever survived?

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Just ink splattered on a page.

They Japanese flourished as underdogs, the role Americans mastered first.

Once the action started, you knew why. The first half taught us 11 distinct lessons (I lost count after) why the Americans entered World No. 1 and consensus favorites to win the game, long after they'd won your affection. Shots and chances, all dazzling but harmless, came and went.

And came again.

But the Japanese endured. They bucked the relentlessness of Megan Rapinoe and Laura Cheney. They pushed forward with a few of their own, moving their head, jabbing when they could, and taking all the hurt the U.S. gave.

In the 69th minute that was Alex Morgan, sub superstar extraordinaire, planting one in the mesh and toward the formality everyone saw coming. In the 104th, it was Wombach's nudging header goal—No. 50 of 122 total—past Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori and, presumably, the United States moments closer toward its record third World Cup.

But it wasn't about who scored first or in how captivating a fashion. That Aya Minyama equalized in the 81st with so garbage a goal that it belonged on the curb every other Wednesday was meaningless. And that Homare Sawa knotted it again in the 117th on a desperation flick off a corner didn't matter in the end.

Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
Japanese captain Homare Sawa (No. 10) hoisting the Cup trophy and capping as American a tale as any. Ever.


They scored most, and last, the latest of which 20-year-old Saki Kumagai's clinching penalty, before a mind-gaming Solo and under the weight of a 2-1 lead. As blunderous as the U.S. loss will be remembered as, sending the ball over the crossbar (Cali Lloyd) or telegraphed with postage (Shannon Boxx) would've catalyzed a U.S. comeback, and made this story a catastrophe.

They were resilient and unafraid of success, the epitome of American vigor.

In other words: They were everything the Americans weren't.

Whether it was fatigue or fame that got to them, you can't be sure. With how they opened the game—motoring for 50-50 balls and barreling over undersized Japanese—and paraded on the talk show circuit before, both were possibilities.

But the why is irrelevant. It can't console teary-eyed Solo and Wambach, your 2011 Cup Golden Glove, and Bronze Boot and Silver Ball winners. And it can't make them the first up for podium pageantry, the slotting for the runners-up.

They blew this one, uncharacteristic for the team, but more so the country. Yeah, the moment Laura Cheney's ankle more closely resembled a coconut, the course of the game was irreparably altered.

Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
With all the devestation still reeling Japan, this game meant more to them than it ever could to anyone, a motivator you're used to hearing about on American sides.


That hurt.

But not as much as squandered chances. There was more wastefulness in those two hours than in the history of NBA max contracts. You want a culprit? That's it.

For sure: This isn't an indictment of our girls' will. They wanted it, needed it even. They had it stitched into their being, punched it on resumes and banked as a next-level investment in the future of American women's sports. 

This was everything for them.

Yet, somehow, it didn't bear half the meaning that it did to Japan, ravaged and vulnerable and still healing. The biggest motivation on the pitch doubled as the single biggest source of relief to a country in its worst state since Little Boy and Fat Man razed everything.

It won't fix nuclear reactors, or tsunamis or the lives that both destroyed. But the Japanese knew well the stakes and how far triumph would go.

The Japanese romance story had subplot, too, something Americans love to love.

But it wasn't all fluff and filler. Storming through the Group Stage, toppling the Germans in the quarters and handling the Swedes in the semifinals made this team the tournament's best kept secret. That's the beauty of the World Cup, one-in-four year affairs that mold nobodys into stars like kids with soccer player Play-Doh.

Exactly what Abby Wambach did this year, and Hope Solo in 2007, and Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy before them.

Tip your cap to the Japanese. They earned it. We didn't.

But more than anything, as decisive and apparent and material as the Cup they hoisted and confetti that rained, they beat us at our game:

Writing American stories.

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