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Ayumi Kaihori's converted penalty kick in the fourth round of Sunday's shootout gave Japan its first world title, winning the FIFA Women's World Cup on penalty kicks, 3-1 over the United States in Frankfurt, Germany, after the final ended regulation tied 2-2.
The United States led twice during the match, taking the lead on Alex Morgan's second half goal, again taking a one-goal lead when Abby Wambach scored in stoppage time. Japan got equalizers from Aya Miyama and, in the 116th minute, Homare Sawa to force penalty kicks, where three makes in four attempts gave them the 2011 World Cup.
The US had dominated play throughout the match but had been held scoreless until a 40-yard ball out of their own end by midfielder Megan Rapinoe found Morgan behind the Japanese defense.
The World Cup rookie, who had come on at halftime for an injured Lauren Cheney, outpaced defender Saki Kumagai to get off a left-footed shot from 17 yards, the far post chance beating goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori before nestling into the bottom corner.
Japan had played much of the match in their own end, content to settle for counterattacking chances against the US team that pressed throughout. Thus it was surprising that the Japanese would get caught out on Rapinoe's long ball, the US counter-converting the same strategy the Japanese had attempted to employ throughout.
Twelve minutes later, Japan responded, taking advantage of a defensive error from the United States to tie the score.
A cross from the right from midfielder Homare Sawa was defended by center back Rachel Buehler, but when left back Ali Krieger failed to clear the resulting ball, Japan midfielder Aya Miyama was able to poke a shot past US goalkeeper Hope Solo from 9 yards, tying the score 1-1.
Despite US pressure in the final 10 minutes of regulation, the game went to extra time, the second time each team had played overtime in this tournament.
Near the end of the first 15-minute period of extra time, Morgan' made a move that put her behind the right side of Japan's defense, allowing her to cut a ball back for Wambach who, standing at the edge of the 6-yard box, redirected a header into the back of Kaihori's goal, giving the US what looked to be its margin of victory.
But in the 116th minute, on a ball in front Japan's left flank, Homare Sawa - the tournament's leading goal scorer (five) - redirected the equalizer past Solo, a right-footed volley from nearly the same spot as Wambach's go-ahead goal. With four minutes left before a penalty kick shootout, Japan's captain had tied the match, 2-2.
The United States had a change to avoid penalty kicks in stoppage time when Japan defender Azusa Iwahimizu saw red for sliding through Alex Morgan just outside the penalty box, the foul committed as Morgan ran onto an uncontested chance on goal. The resulting direct kick eventually went out for a corner, the match heading to penalty kicks moments later.
In the shootout, the United States missed their first three attempts, and despite Solo saving Japan's second attempt, the US were in a must-make, must-save situation by the fourth round of kicks. Abby Wambach successfully converted her attempt to cut Japan's lead to 2-1, but when Kumagai put Japan's fourth attempt high into the left of Solo's goal, Japan had won their first World Cup.
Sunday's final was Japan's first appearance in the final of a major tournament. They become the fourth nation to ever win the World Cup, joining the United States, Germany, and Norway.
The win was Japan's first victory over the United States in 26 all-time meetings.