FIFA Women's World Cup: The 5 Best Games of the Tournament
The 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup went into the books in stunning fashion today, as a classic between the U.S. and Japan continued the tournament's streak of dramatic, nail-biting games.
In the end, we saw the latest goal in World Cup history scored twice, three penalty shootouts, and a resilient Japanese team battle through the host nation and defending champions, before defeating the No. 1 ranked team in the world to claim their first World Cup Title.
The action may be over in Germany, but let's recap the top five games of the tournament.
Most Exciting Team: New Zealand
But before I get to the list, I want to take a second to commend New Zealand. Last year during the Men's World Cup, I meant to write a piece about the New Zealand men not losing a game in the tournament (winning one).
Why is that even relevant enough to write an entire article on? Because the confederation that they come out of (Oceania Football Confederation) is a joke, especially since Australia left—let's be honest.
The apple must not fall too far from the tree because the women's team stood out as well. They didn't win a single game, but all of them kept you on the edge of your seat.
The most exciting game was a 2-2 tie against Mexico in their final game of group play. New Zealand was down 2-0 in the 90th minute before storming back and scoring two to end the match. Subtract my bias of the tournament's best teams and it cracks the top five. But both teams went home after that game, so it doesn't.
5: Sweden vs. France (Third Place Game)
Third place games are normally overlooked by World Cup viewers and the teams don't put on their best performances in them, but Sweden and France showed plenty of will in yesterday's match.
Sweden's Lotta Schelin flicked a one-on-one ball to the right of the keeper to get the scoring started in the 29th minute.
In the 56th minute , France's Elodie Thomas calmly slotted a right-footed shot into the lower left corner to knot it up at one.
Things went from bad to worse when Sweden's Josephine Oqvist was sent off in the 68th minute after a blatant kick to the chest of French defender Sonia Bompastor
But in the 82nd minute, Sweden's Marie Hammarstrom recovered a clearance from a corner, flicked the ball over a defender, past another, and rocketed it over the keeper for the winning goal. If not for Marta's goal against the U.S. (which I'll mention a little later), I could top my list for Goal of the Tournament.
10-man Sweden ended up defeating France 2-1 and taking third place in the tournament.
4: France vs. England (Quarterfinal)
After France and England opened up the quarterfinals in such dramatic fashion, we should have known that the rest of the games would follow suit.
With all of the opportunities that France had in the game (33 shots to England's 7), it seemed inevitable that France would score first.
But in the 59th minute, Jill Scott scored on a breakaway to give England the lead.
France continued pummeling the goal with shots, but most were off the mark and blocked to no avail. French midfielder Elise Bussaglia finally scored the equalizer with a beautiful one-touch goal off the left post in the 88th minute.
The two sides couldn't score a winner in extra time and went to penalty kicks.
The anguish for France increased when Camille Abily's opening kick was stopped by goalkeeper Kara Bardsley. The PKs went to sudden death after England's Claire Rafferty missed the fourth shot.
France's Eugenie Le Sommer made her attempt, but English captain Faye White's shot went off the crossbar.
With that miss, France beat England 1-1 (4-3 on PKs) to advance to the semifinals.
3: Japan vs. Germany (Quarterfinal)
The excitement factor certainly didn't match that of Sweden-France or France-England. With the host nation getting off twice as many shots as Japan (23 to 9), a goal still hadn't come at half time.
Not only that, the Japanese had kept up pretty well the Germans.
After full time and still no goal between the teams, the tension was building by the second.
Finally in the 108th minute, the breakthrough came—but it was Japan's Karina Maruyama, who came on at halftime, poking the running ball past the keeper from the left side of the box (chalk up an assist for bad goalkeeping).
The stadium went silent. And 12 minutes later, the two-time defending champions' nightmares had become reality.
Japan had pulled off the biggest upset in Women's World Cup history by defeating Germany 1-0 in extra time.
2: USA vs. Brazil (Quarterfinal)
Drama In Dresden seems like the perfect title for this US soccer classic.
After losing to Sweden in group play, the US were matched against Brazil a round early. Right away, soccer fans' thoughts shifted past the U.S.'s three consecutive wins over Brazil and right to the 4-0 thrashing that the Brazilians handed to the Americans in the last World Cup.
The scoring got underway immediately in the second minute after Brazilian defender Daiane put a Shannon Boxx cross into her own net. American fans all over the world blew a sigh of relief with the thought that the Yanks would be just fine.
But as the first half progressed, Brazil began to turn on the pressure with skillful set pieces and lightning fast breakaways.
The U.S. saw their first real sign of trouble when Marta went down in the box from a Rachel Buehler tackle. Buehler was sent off and Brazil received a penalty kick. American keeper Hope Solo made a miraculous save on Cristiane PK attempt only to have it retaken. Marta stepped up the second time and knotted it up 1-1.
The Americans survived the rest of full time, but they weren't out of the woods yet. Two minutes into extra time, Marta did her best 2007 World Cup impression and scored an impossible goal from the left of the box and off the far post.
Extra time continued on as the U.S. failed to capitalize on some great opportunities.
But in the 122nd minute, Megan Rapinoe's cross found Abby Wambach's head for the latest goal in World Cup history.
Before the first PK was even taken it was evident - this team was destined for a win. Hope Solo only needed to stop one PK, as the Americans made all five of their attempts.
The U.S. exacted World Cup revenge on Brazil with a magnificent 1-1 (5-3) victory.
1: USA vs. Japan (Final)
Unlike the aforementioned game, this one was an American classic for all the wrong reasons. The Japanese came into the final with a combined 0-22-3 record against the U.S. with three of those losses coming this year.
And when the game began, this result looked to be no different. Japan stumbled out of the gate while the U.S. came out guns blazing, littering the Japanese goal with shots. After Abby Wambach's shot went begging off the bottom of the crossbar, the first goal looked to be close behind.
It didn't come in the first half, but Alex Morgan's great run and greater goal to beat keeper Ayumi Kaihori got things going in the 63rd minute.
One would expect the Japanese to turn it on after going down so late in the match, but they continued their patient play, waiting for the perfect opening.
Their tying goal came off of miscue by the U.S. defense. Rachel Buehler tapped a Japan cross to Ali Krieger, who whiffed on the clearance. The ball went right to Aya Miyama who snuck it past Hope Solo.
Throughout the game, the Japanese had done a great job of neutralizing the U.S.'s height advantage on corner kicks. But in the 104th minute, Abby Wambach finally broke through and added another clutch header to her highlight reel off of the Alex Morgan cross.
But again, the Japanese looked relatively unfazed during the second period of extra time, calmly searching for the equalizer.
It came in the 117th minute and, like the U.S., it came from their primary playmaker Homare Sawa. It was similar to Marta's second goal against the U.S., but the flick took an ironic hit off of Wambach's leg and into the net.
There was a relative unease in the air about this PK, likely because it was Japan doing comeback this time. The rattled nerves showed as the U.S. failed on their first three PK attempts, two of which were saved by Kaihori. Solo saved the second shot by Yuki Nagasato but it wasn't enough.
Japan shocked the U.S. on penalty kicks 2-2 (3-1) to win the first World Cup for an Asian nation.