Let’s get something strait: the US should not have won the Women’s world cup final. Let me repeat: the US should not have won the women’s world cup final. The Japanese team proved that they were the better team, despite the fact that the US team controlled the pace of the game for a good 70 minutes.
Before there’s any misconception, I was pulling for the women’s team. I don’t think there’s any disrespect in saying that they lost to a team that was simply better.
But I do think it’s disrespectful to the Japanese team to say the US team simply choked. It detracts from the Japanese team’s talent and (Warning: cliche ahead) their will to win. And it overlooks the obvious: Japan was the better team on March 17th, 2011.
1. Failure to finish
The United States took 27 shots. But only six of those were on goal. Compare that with the Japanese side (14 shots, 4 of which were on goal) and you’ll see that the Japanese were statistically more accurate with their shooting. Let’s not forget that each side had two shots see the back of the net.
2. Ignore the “What ifs”
The biggest argument I hear for the US team choking as opposed to the Japanese team winning consists of “what if” scenarios.
“What if the US had capitalized on their early opportunities?” It doesn’t matter because they weren’t able to. They didn’t choose to miss their shots, they were unable to shoot accurately.
But let’s look at a couple of other “What if” scenarios. What if the Brazil team didn’t melt down towards the end of their match with the US? Or better yet, what if Ohno hadn’t been called off sides in the 63rd minute? Given the fact that the Japanese demonstratively take better advantage of the opportunities presented to them, and given the fact that many fastbreaks, such as the one Ohno was presented with, result in goals, it’s not too hard to see Japan having taken an early 1-0 lead over the US.
Do you see where I’m going with this? The “what ifs” do not matter and cannot be taken into consideration.
3. The Cliche: Heart of a Champion
The best way to beat a possession oriented team is to break their composure. And the quickest way to do that is to take the lead early and force them to lose their composure.
However, the Japanese team did not panic. Instead, they raised their sense of urgency while retaining their sense of composure to even the match each time they were down. US scores in the 69th minute? Japan comes back 11 minutes later. Abby Womback with a goal 104 minutes in? Homare Sawa takes advantage of a corner kick 13 minutes later.
US fast break in the final minutes of extra time? Azusa Iwashimizu takes one for the team, earning a red card in the process, but stopping the US from winning the match.
There were some scary moments for the Japanese team (most of which took place in the first 20 minutes of the match), but they refused to be overwhelmed by those moments and won the match.
They wanted the “W” more than the US team, which is why it’s fair to say the Japanese team was the better team than the US.
At least, they were the better team on July 17th. The US has an opportunity at redemption in the 2012 London Olympics, and I believe they’ll do well. Will they be the better team? I really hope they will. 12 years is a long time to go without winning a World Cup.