Japan upsets U.S. in Women's World Cup final

Japan defeated the United States 3-1 in a penalty shootout in the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany.

Japanese win in a dramatic penalty shootout

Japanese players celebrate their victory against the U.S. on Sunday. (Michael Probst/Associated Press)

Japan defeated the United States 3-1 in a penalty shootout in the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany.

The teams played to a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes of regulation and extra time.

Japan's Homare scored her fifth goal in extra time to claim the Golden Shoe award as the tournament's top scorer. She also won the Golden Ball honour as the competition's MVP.

What this result means

Japan becomes the fourth World Cup champion in the 20-year history of the storied competition. The Japanese are also the first team from outside Europe and North America to claim the crown, entering the pantheon of women's soccer, where they join the United States (1991 and 1999), Norway (1995) and Germany (2003 and 2007).

The odds were certainly stacked against the Asian powerhouse in Frankfurt. These teams met 25 times at the senior level in international play prior to Sunday, with the Americans winning 22 matches and drawing three times. The U.S. had outscored Japan 70-10 in those matches.

But the streak finally ended as the Japanese won the biggest match of their lives.

Sunday's result also capped off what is a heartwarming story.

The Japanese have carried themselves with great dignity and class every step of the way at this tournament, playing for the folks back home who are still dealing with aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country in March.

After every match the Japanese players went to the middle of the field and displayed a banner reading "To our Friends Around the World — Thank You for Your Support."

Hopefully the events in Frankfurt will help provide Japan some emotional relief.

How the game played out

For all of their heralded technical skill and sublime passing game, Japan was overwhelmed in the opening half, uncharacteristically conceding possession in a cheap fashion.

World Cup final breaks Twitter record

Twitter says the culmination of the Women's World Cup final between Japan and the United States broke the record for tweets per second.

Japan twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with the U.S. after extra time before winning a penalty shootout on Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany.

The exciting climax drew 7,196 tweets per second. Paraguay's penalty shootout win over Brazil in a Copa America quarter-final on Sunday came close to beating it with 7,166 and is now second on the list.

The previous record of 6,939 was set just after midnight in Japan on New Year's Day. Other spikes include Osama bin Laden's death (5,106 per second) and the Super Bowl in February (4,064).

Spain's World Cup win over the Netherlands in July 2010 managed a high of 3,051.

— Associated Press

The U.S. swarmed early, with a pair of scoring chances by Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Cheney in the opening 15 minutes going unconverted.

While the Japanese continued to struggle going forward in attack, the U.S. poured on the pressure by pressing their opponents deep inside their half. The tactic nearly paid off for the Americans in the 29th minute when Abby Wambach's piledriver of a shot from inside the box slammed against the crossbar.

Cheney was subbed out at half time with a sore right foot, and was replaced by youngster Alex Morgan. Within minutes of coming into the game, Morgan hit the post from close range, and the Japanese defence cleared the ball out of danger.

After Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori made a great save to deny Wambach, the Americans finally broke the deadlock in the 69th minute. Rapinoe played a long ball from her half to Morgan, who fought off a Japanese defender and went on a lung-busting run before slotting a low, driving shot past Kaihori.

The U.S. was clearly in the ascendancy and a third World Cup crown appeared to be a formality.

But Japan showed great resolve and levelled the score in the 81st minute. The American defence failed to deal with a low drive played into the box, and a botched clearance by Ali Krieger landed at the feet of Aya Miyama who slotted it home with the outside of her foot.

In extra time, Morgan's pinpoint cross into the middle of the box in the 104th minute was met by a perfect Wambach header that soared into the back of the net.

Again Japan fought back and tied the score in the 116th minute when Homare Sawa's shot took a deflection and looped over American goalkeeper Hope Solo.

There was still some drama to come in extra time. Azusa Iwashimizu was red carded in the 120th minute, and the Japanese were forced into some harried defending on the ensuing free kick from the edge of the box.

The Americans missed their first three penalties (Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath) and Japan went on to win the shootout 3-1 when Saki Kumagai slotted the final shot past Solo.

The turning point

Kaihori came up with a fantastic leg save on Shannon Boxx in the Americans' first attempt in the penalty shootout.

Save of the match

In the 63rd minute, Heather O'Reilly delivered a perfect cross into the heart of the Japanese box for Abby Wambach. The American forward connected with a powerful header, but Kaihori expertly tipped it over the crossbar.

Player of the match

Alex Morgan. The youngest player on the American team (she's 22) showed the most maturity and poise, scoring the goal that gave the U.S. the lead in the second half and then delivering the cross that led to Wambach's goal in extra time.