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U.S. fails on 3 penalty kicks, falls to Japan in World Cup championship

(L-R) Heather Mitts Hope Solo Becky Sauerbrunn Abby Wambach USA look dejected after losing 3-5 Japan after penalty shoot-out FIFA

(L-R) Heather Mitts, Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Wambach of USA look dejected after losing 3-5 to Japan after a penalty shoot-out in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final match at the FIFA World Cup stadium on July 17, 2011 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. | Getty Images

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Updated: July 18, 2011 2:42AM

FRANKFURT, Germany — They came to play for their storm-ravaged country. They left with the Women’s World Cup trophy.

Japan stunned the United States in a riveting Women’s World Cup final, winning 3-1 on penalty kicks Sunday after coming from behind twice in a 2-2 tie. Goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori made two brilliant saves in the shootout.

‘‘Before we went to the match, we heard comments on the situation in Japan,’’ coach Norio Sasaki said. ‘‘We wanted to use this opportunity to thank the people back home for the support that has been given.’’

Japan entered the game never having beaten the United States (0-22-3), but it played inspired soccer and hoped its success could provide even a small emotional lift to a nation still reeling from the earthquake and tsunami March 11 that left nearly 23,000 dead or missing.

‘‘If any other country was to win this, then I’m really happy and proud for Japan,’’ said U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd, who sent a penalty kick over the net in the shootout. ‘‘I really thought it was our destiny to win it, but maybe it was Japan’s.’’

The U.S. women thought they were meant to be champions, especially after coming from behind late to defeat Brazil in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. They simply couldn’t pull off one last thriller.

‘‘There are really no words,’’ U.S. striker Abby Wambach said. ‘‘We were so close.’’

Only minutes away, in fact. After Wambach scored her fourth goal of the tournament to give the United States a 2-1 lead in the 104th minute, Homare Sawa flicked in a corner kick in the 117th for her fifth goal of the tournament to tie it.

The United States had been perfect on its penalty kicks against Brazil, but the players didn’t have the same touch against Japan.

Shannon Boxx took the first U.S. shot, and it banged off Kaihori’s right leg. After Aya Miyama made her penalty, Lloyd stepped up and sent her shot soaring over the crossbar. As the crowd gasped, Lloyd covered her mouth in dismay.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo saved Japan’s next shot, but Kaihori made an impressive two-handed save on a shot by Tobin Heath.

‘‘In the penalty shootout, I just had to believe in myself,’’ Kaihori said. ‘‘I was very confident.’’

After Mizuho Sakaguchi scored to give Japan a 2-0 lead in the shootout, Wambach buried her penalty kick to keep the United States alive. But Japan need to make only one more, and Saki Kumagai did.

‘‘It’s tough to do two rounds of penalties,’’ Wambach said. ‘‘The keeper knows in a lot of ways where we’re going to go. She made some great saves.’’

After a scoreless first half, the United States took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Alex Morgan in the 69th minute. Japan forced overtime on a goal by Miyama in the 81st.

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