The U.S. players tightened up and missed three kicks — one of them on a miraculous save by Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, who dove left and yet still managed to kick away a ball hit to her right.
The Japanese made three out of four attempts, with Saki Kumagai booting the winner.
In the post-match interview, Ms. Sawa, who joined the national team at age 14 and played in five World Cups, was ecstatic.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but we know this is a great victory. We are bringing the gold medal home to Japan,” she told Japanese TV networks NHK and Fuji TV broadcasting the game live.
Mr. Koh said the historic win will inspire a generation of Japanese schoolchildren who already love soccer more than baseball, volleyball or any other sport.
The Samurai Blue, whose teamwork and defending nearly led them to the quarterfinals at the men’s World Cup in South Africa last summer, will likely take note of how Japan’s women used quick passing and clever defenses to counter much taller opponents.
“I’m surprised we won,” said Coach Sasaki. “Our tiny girls really did it.”
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