Frankfurt, Germany (Sports Network) - Twelve years after the U.S. won its last Women's World Cup in a shootout against China, it failed to recapture the same magic on penalty kicks against Japan.
Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalty kicks in the shootout, just minutes after Homare Sawa scored the tying goal late in extra time, and Japan defeated the U.S. 3-1 on penalties Sunday after a 2-2 draw to win its first title.
Sawa answered Abby Wambach's extra-time goal for the U.S. with three minutes to go in the second extra period and Kaihori saved penalties from Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath, and Carli Lloyd missed her attempt for the U.S.
Japan made three of its four penalties, and sealed the shootout win when Saki Kumagai scored in the fourth round at Commerzbank-Arena.
"We have some very good players on the team and this is why we have been able to win the final," said Kaihori. "I received excellent support from the other players and I want to emphasis this is a team effort.
"In the penalty shootout I just had to believe in myself and I was very confident."
Alex Morgan scored the first goal of the match in the 69th minute for the U.S. but Aya Miyama tied the game for the first time in the 81st for Japan to force extra time.
Although the official result goes down as a draw, Japan's win on penalties was its first against the U.S. in 26 all-time matches. The Americans had won 22 of the 25 previous meetings, including three earlier this year.
"It will be a final to remember and credit to both teams," said U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.
The U.S. won its second World Cup in 1999 when it converted all five penalties for a 5-4 shootout win over China after a 0-0 draw. The Americans also won the World Cup in 1991.
Sundhage made two changes from the semifinal win against France by returning Rachel Buehler to her spot in defense after she served a one-game suspension, and handing super sub Megan Rapinoe her first start.
Rapinoe had a goal and an assist off the bench over the first five matches and provided a spark from the opening whistle this time, as she broke into the box inside 30 seconds, but was denied from a tight angle by Kaihori.
The early chance was a sign of things to come from the U.S., but the 11 shots that followed in the first half all failed to find the target - including one off the post and one off the crossbar.
Rapinoe continued to cause problems on the left side, and she made another run into the area in the 18th but drove a shot off the near post. The U.S. waited 12 minutes for its next chance, but Wambach was also frustrated by the frame.
She broke down the left side and was on her favored left foot, but her rocket crashed off the crossbar and bounced out, ending a dominant opening half-hour for the Americans.
Japan finally settled in after the 30-minute mark, and its first good look at goal nearly resulted in the opening score. Sawa had the final pass on a quick attack in the 31st to an open Kozue Ando on the left, but she only sent a weak shot toward the near post that U.S. goalie Hope Solo easily covered.
The U.S. ended the first half with another good chance from Lauren Cheney, who flicked an open header from 12 yards just over the bar. Sundhage was forced to remove Cheney at half because of an ankle injury but substitute Morgan made an immediate impact off the bench.
Heather O'Reilly played a ball in from the right end line, and Morgan reached the pass to poke a shot around Kaihori from close range only to find the post, the third time the U.S. hit the woodwork in just 49 minutes.
After a brief lull in chances, Japan looked to have created the best chance of the match for either side when Shinobu Ohno was played into acres of space in the 64th, but the flag went up for offside, even though she clearly wasn't.
The U.S. responded with another chance on the other end, as Wambach reached a pass from O'Reilly and lifted a header toward goal that forced Kaihori to jump and tip the ball over the crossbar.
Japan made two changes in the 66th, bringing forwards Karina Maruyama and Yuki Nagasato into the match in a switch for a midfielder and a forward. But it was the U.S. that responded with the opening goal just minutes later.
Rapinoe's 50-yard pass down the middle of the field led Morgan into space, and the 22-year-old striker got position on a Japanese defender and made two fast touches before driving a left-footed shot inside the right post.
Morgan became just the second substitute to score in a World Cup final, but it would not stand as Miyama answered in the 81st following a lucky bounce in the area.
Buehler tried to clear the ball out of the box, but sent the ball off teammate Ali Krieger just a few yards away and the ball fell into space to Miyama. She made no mistake from eight yards, leaving Solo no chance.
The final minutes of regulation ticked away without many chances and after two minutes of stoppage time, the match went to extra time. Wambach sent a header on goal and Morgan fired wide early, but the go-ahead goal followed.
One week after rescuing the U.S. with a 122-minute goal - the latest in World Cup history - in the quarterfinals against Brazil, Wambach headed a pass from Morgan into the net from six yards in the 104th.
Japan remained unnerved, and Miyama and Sawa combined on the tying goal in the 117th minute to level the match. Miyama played a corner kick in from the left, and Sawa met the ball at the near post and flicked the ball past Solo.
Morgan created one last chance for the U.S., but she was chopped down just on the edge of the area by Azusa Iwashimizu - who received a red card on the foul - and the Americans wasted the free kick as the match went to penalties.
Boxx failed to hit the first chance well, and Kaihori made a foot save to deny the U.S. an early lead in the shootout. Miyama buried Japan's first attempt in the shootout, and Lloyd fired her shot over the bar on the second U.S. try.
Solo saved Yuki Nagasato's attempt in the second round, giving the U.S. a good shot to get back in the shootout, but Kaihori saved Tobin Heath's attempt, and Mizuho Sakaguchi sent a shot in off Solo's hand and, after Wambach converted a kick for the U.S., Kumagai buried the winner.
Japan's unexpected run to a World Cup title comes months after the country was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at a power plant and undoubtedly provided an uplifting moment for the country.
"Considering the current situation in Japan," said Japan manager Norio Sasaki, "I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support."
07/17 19:13:19 ET