As an objective observer/soccer fan you have to be more than a little happy for a plucky Japanese team that had more of a never-say-die attitude than the Americans, who had made that their trademark in this World Cup. And that whole tsunami thing undoubtedly makes this a "feel good" story not only in Japan but worldwide.
Except here. Japan didn't win this one; we gave it away. I wanted to pummel Ian Darke when he kept wondering if the U.S. would rue its repeated missed opportunities in the first 30 minutes of the match, but that was mostly because I suspected he was right (and for God's sake will someone please buy Julie Foudy a calculator?).
Still, those misses shouldn't have mattered. You have to be able to defend a one goal lead in the last ten minutes of any match. And particularly a World Cup Final against a team that had, for 80 minutes, displayed a remarkable lack of finishing ability and had failed to pose a single legitimate offensive threat.
It was the first of the two Japanese goals that was particularly heinous. Horrible, desperate defending when it wasn't necessary or called for. Usually you speak of offensive players who "choke" but it certainly appeared that it was the U.S. defenders who did exactly that, gifting Miyama an opportunity she didn't deserve but, to her credit, she put away.
|Not the celebration U.S. fans were hoping to see, |
particularly in the 116th minute with the lead.
When Sawa scored the second, with only four minutes to play in extra time, it seemed to seal the deal. It wasn't the U.S. that would be the improbable winner in this match. The shootout was awful to watch and, surely, worse to actually participate in.
So we're left with a lot of good memories and renewed attention, at least temporarily, to soccer in general and women's soccer in particular in this country. But oh, what could have been, if only we had decided to clear the ball upfield instead of treating it like a pinball in our own six-yard box.
And, if nothing else, this match proved exactly what makes soccer unique among all sports: one team can dominate another and still lose. That is indeed what makes soccer so maddening, and so irresistible at the same time.
The next Women's World Cup is in Canada. Anyone else in?