Japan have emerged as the winners in the Women's World Cup final showdown against the United States. Japan, the tournament's surprise package, secured victory in a penalty shootout after twice coming back from behind.
Japan were seen as outsiders before the tournament
Japan lifted their first-ever Women's World Cup on Sunday evening in Frankfurt, after twice equalizing against the US and then claiming the victory in a penalty shootout.
The team raised the trophy amid a spray of gold tape and fireworks, before jubilant football fans at Frankfurt's Commerzbank Arena. Goalkeeping heroine Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalties in a dramatic shootout before defender Saki Kumagai coonverted the decisive spot-kick.
Despite the result, the US had dominated large parts of the match
After dominating much of the match, the US finally took the lead in the second-half of normal time when US forward Alex Morgan latched onto a long ball over the Japanese back-line and smashed it into the net.
But American hopes of keeping a clean sheet themselves were thwarted by a mix-up in defense in the 81st minute.
Japan's Aya Miyama took advantage to equalize, tapping in the loose ball that she had poached at close range.
With no change in the score after 90 minutes, the match went into extra time. US striker Abby Wambach - who netted four in six World Cup matches - headed her side back into the lead in the 104th minute, but there was more drama to come.
Down to the wire
Three minutes before the final whistle of extra time blew, tournament golden boot winner Homare Sawa kept her side in the game with another headed effort that set up the prospect of penalties. The Japanese captain Sawa, playing in her fifth World Cup, scored five goals in the competition and also won the Adidas Golden Ball - awarded to the most valuable player of the tournament.
Japan's winning spot kick - before a sell-out crowd of 48,817 in Frankfurt - meant that the side beat the US for the first time in 26 matches.
"We're so happy about the title and so happy that we stayed in the tournament so long," said Sawa. "We had so much self-confidence all the way to the end and we all believed in ourselves all the way."
Wambach headed home the second, but her side could not hold on long enough
Japan coach Norio Sasaki admitted his side had got off to a slow start, putting it down to inexperience.
"Our team was very focused and very organized, but it was our first final, so we didn't really get into the game," said Sasaki.
As favorites, the US have won the World Cup on two previous occasions, in 1991 and 1999.
Praise for the champions
Chancellor Angela Merkel, celebrating her 57th birthday, was present at the match along with former chancelor Helmut Kohl and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Merkel praised the game as well as the "incredibly strong nerve" of the Japanese side, which also defeated Germany.
"Women's football has been benefitted enormously and has shown itself to be on a level with men's football," said Merkel. "It is no shame that the German side was beaten by the champions and we have also shown ourselves to be good hosts."
German coach Silvia Neid and several of her national team players were also in attendance, mostly cheering for Japan.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Mark Hallam