Japan beat the US women’s soccer team, just like last summer. And this time, the Japanese didn’t need penalty kicks.
Megumi Takase scored on a 6-yard header off Aya Miyama’s corner kick in the 84th minute to give the world champions a 1-0 victory Monday at Faro, Portugal, in a rematch of last year’s World Cup championship game. The Japanese became the first team in more than three years to hold the Americans scoreless and advanced to a matchup against Germany in the Algarve Cup final.
”I think more than anything, it opens our eyes to areas we can improve in,” American midfielder Heather O’Reilly said. ”Better now that we have this experience than later during the Olympics. I think we have a lot to learn from and a lot grow from, but we’re trying to pull the positives out of it.”
The Americans, who had been seeking their third straight title and ninth overall in the annual tournament, finished second in Group B with a 2-1 record and will play Sweden in the third-place game Wednesday. The US had gone 58 consecutive games without being shut out since a 0-0 tie against South Korea on Nov. 5, 2008.
Japan (3-0) ended an 11-game unbeaten streak for the Americans, who hadn’t lost since the Women’s World Cup final. When they met in Germany last July, the Japanese came from behind twice in a 2-2 tie, then won 3-1 on penalty kicks for their first World Cup title.
The US had been 9-0-2 since, including an 8-0 record this year as the Americans outscored opponents 47-2.
”I think they played like the best team in the world,” US coach Pia Sundhage said. ”They keep possession and controlled the attack.”
Japan scored after Amy LePeilbet, under pressure, headed the ball over her own end line. The goal was Japan’s only corner kick of the match and only shot of the second half.
The Americans would have advanced to their 10th straight Algarve final with a win or a tie. In the final minutes, Megan Rapinoe was wide with a 30-yard free kick and Shannon Boxx put a 10-yard header over the goal.
”They took care of their one opportunity that they really had,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said. ”The Japanese team is fantastic. They have so many great players. They keep such good possession that it’s really difficult to get a rhythm because you don’t have as much possession as you normally do.”
The US and Japan will see each other again soon – they meet in an exhibition on April 1 at Sendai.
”It’s something to think about, and to move forward with and train against, so when we go to Japan and maybe see them in the Olympics, we can fare better and play better,” Wambach said.