Japan takes the World Cup

July 17, 2011 • 3:56 pm

The Women’s World Cup final was a superb game, but after dominating most of the play and narrowly missing a lot of goals, the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks.  It was a heartbreaker for the American women, but they’re happy in Japan this morning.  This is not only the first time that the Japanese national team has defeated the U.S. (out of 25 games!), but it’s also their first World Cup.  Congrats to them!

I still think—contrary to every other football fan on this website—that any World Cup final should be more than one game. No world championship should have to be decided on ten kicks. Regardless, though, this was a thrilling match, and I hope it enhances women’s football on the world stage.

44 thoughts on “Japan takes the World Cup

  1. The heartbreak and joy is a feature of it being just one game. Just as keeping linesmen instead of precise electronics is a feature.

    It’s as much about the drama as it is about fairness. That’s why we care. One moment to shine, not seven playoff games to make money out of.

  2. I’m surprised they don’t use the “extra time” system for matches as important as this; it used to be standard in knockout football/soccer contests.

    In case you’re not familiar with it: If scores are still level at time, then, after a short break, 10 or 15 further minutes are played in hopes of getting a winner. I *think* play stops as soon as a goal is scored, or it may be they play the full extra time. [My game is cricket, not football.] If scores are still level after the end of extra time, the process is repeated.

    It seems to me this system is far fairer than the penalties system. After all, the game’s supposed to be about the collective all-round skills of the team, not just about which team’s got better penalty-shooters.

      1. Did they not play extra time in the final? They did in the England vs France game I watched (fantastic game btw; the basic honest sportswomanship of the players in getting stuck in without histrionics was in stark contrast to most men’s games.) Is the above comment referring to extra time AFTER extra time? There are some competitions in which a Golden Goal scenario is used. At least, there used to be (European Championship?) The idea is that, after the normal extra time (15 minutes each way), the first team to score wins the match, hence the term ‘Golden Goal’.

      2. Well, a penalty shot is a technical act indeed, is part of playing football as any other thing.
        In the meantime yesterday Brasile was beaten by Paraguay in the Copa America in the same way, well in a worse way as they scored 0 out of 4 penalties…and Brasilian are supposed to be great penalty shooters…so it’s football 😉

    1. I, for one, am glad that the Golden Goal rule was quickly abandoned. Both teams can use the extra time to score and get a goal against in return.

      Living in Holland, I’ve grown up with football (though it will never be my favourite game). Most Europeans enjoy the concept of 2 x 15 mins to either win, lose or draw, followed by -sometimes nailbitingly exhilirating- penalty shoot outs.

      In my opinion America played great football against a Japan playing an exciting game throughout the tournament. Ultimately, the most deserving team won.

      1. Oh, so the Golden Goal idea was definitely tried and then abandoned then? I started to wonder if I was misremembering having seen that!

    2. They do play extra time (and they did, yesterday). They don’t do the “Golden Goal” anymore, because it seems even more unfair just to end the game abruptly after one team scores without giving the other one a chance to equalize in the regular time. So they play 2 times 15 minutes and only then start penalty shooting – becuse you really can’t play forever, the teams’ stamina tends to be at an end anyway after 120 minutes.
      Penalties are not the ideal solution, but I thinks it’s the best one there is right now.

  3. I agree. I hate calling matches on free kicks. It goes against the spirit of the game and is not at all interesting. So why should games be decided by some boring shoot-out?

    1. Seconded! I don’t have a problem with the way the series of games is set up, but I DO very much take issue with games (any game–international or not) being decided by shootouts.

    2. Not at all interesting?

      Maybe not if you don’t care much about the result, but if you’re invested in one of the teams then penalty shoot outs are one of the most fascinating parts of the game.

      The pressure on the player’s is immense and so is the feeling of tension for the crowd, win or lose you’ll definitely know about it.

      As an Englishman I can’t pretend to enjoy it when a game goes to penalties, but they are a great part of tournament football.

      Playing a final over multiple games is just a horrible idea. Sounds like something advertisers thought up.

  4. Well there is a saying in Spanish that is roughly equivalent to “sh*t happens”: “así es el fútbol” (that’s football).

    Which applies to life what is true in football: that unfair crap and even some cheating is fair game if it’s not caught by the (very) human referees at the time. Many football fans will defend this aspect of it to the death.

    So, making things fairer by having another match would never be accepted. Also, the final is such a unique event, in a tournament that comes every 4 years. No one would go along with the idea of having more matches!

    1. Forgot. It also means that one kick or one error could cost everything to the team. Many of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history happened this way.

  5. @JG (2):

    The game did use extra time (two 15-minute halves, no “golden goal”) before going to penalty kicks. The score was 1-1 at the end of regular time, 2-2 at the end of extra time.
    Other than for the US team and its immediate supporters, it’s hard to see this as anything but great for women’s soccer, as the Japanese team has tremendous public sympathy – plus they just played better!
    PS: As the name suggests, I am not Japanese.

    1. Many thanks for the correction! As I noted, my game’s cricket, not football, so I didn’t see the final.

      *skulks off, head hung low in shame*

  6. Concur, and further wishing not one tear in any lassie’s anterior cruciate ligament.

    Is any sports guh-LO-ree worth such an injury?

    Thank goodness neither the elucidation of the DNA structure nor the discovery of the cosmic backgroun radiation required it.

  7. As my wife reminds me, “It’s a game. Someone has to win and someone has to lose.” The notion of a multi-game playoff series assumes that there is some intrinsic level of team excellence that can be measured better that way, like multiple measurements of a physical constant to reduce the measurement error tolerance – seems a bit far-fetched to me. And, after the regulation time and the added time, they were all clearly getting very tired and missing a lot of passes. Using even more additional time periods like American college bowl games would only result in a period of sub-par performance (American college football has a lot of resting time for the players – not so with soccer.)

  8. Aw, come on! Rulz is Rulz.

    PK’s are just as exciting as play and it comes down to great skill by the shooter and goalie and gamesmanship. Fake left, shoot hard or soft, lob …

    It was a great game of skill, tactics and fitness.

    Kudos, also, to the German center who refereed the game fairly and expertly. She was mag-nif-i-cent.

    Besides, Doc Wife is a certified ref and gave the game 4 thumbs up. (I was conscripted.)

  9. Abitrary though it may be, I certainly do think that the charm of soccer lies in the all or nothing nature.

    I absolutely love basketball, and I love that the NBA finals are played over 7 games, there’s enjoyment to be had in the tactical adjustments and the like, but I really don’t think it translates to soccer, or the NFL, or to my other sport of choice, Australian Rules Football. (Which has a rule whereby a draw in the Grand Final means they all come back next week and play the game again!! As happened last year!)

    Penalties are a harsh way of deciding, but with extra time included, I think they’re fair enough.

  10. After the tsunami and fission problems, I’m glad Japan has something to be happy about. Good for them.

  11. I don’t like to see a World Cup final settled on penalties and I think there must be better ways to do. However, like everyone else – an unlike Dr Coyne = I am happy for the final to be one match.

    What is crazy, in my view, is the Champions League where the semis are played over two legs and the final is one game.

  12. Until today, I believed that penalty shootouts are an abomination, and that if a match is still drawn after extra time there should be a replay. (I think this was the case in the men’s World Cup Final until 1986, though I don’t know how often it came up.) However, if I’d had my way we’d have been denied Kaihori’s save on the first shot, which was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

    1. Personally I thought the first save was dumb luck! But whether it was luck or skill Kaihori goes home the hero of her country. Two saves in a World Cup Final penalty shootout.

      1. Dumb luck?

        No. Dumb luck would have been to stand in the middle of the goal, not move and have the ball hit you in the face.

        Like the t-ball short stop years ago who stood there rock solid, unmoving and a ball was hit directly to him and landed in his glove. He never moved. That’s dumb luck.

        The save was the result of years of training and skill.

        Perhaps “dumb” and “luck” were poor words of choice on your part! Unless, of course, you wrote that by dumb luck.

      2. @NoAstronomer
        dumb luck!

        Hey! No fair. I’m an amateur football player (we have a little local league and what not) and I can tell you that luck has got nothing to do with it. It sure seems like luck, because goalkeeping is a job that relies on a lot of intuition, but that intuition has to be trained. Really hard, too. There’s a ton of difference between the “luck” I used to have 6 years ago and the “luck” I tend to have now :).

  13. Someone indeed has to win.
    I remember watching the Sweden-Romania quarter-final(?) in the 1994 World Cup live in Palo Alto, when they had not only the two 15-minute extra halves, but then two 5-minute further halves, before going to PKs; and that game still went to PKs. Even then, it went to more than the usual 5 PKs/side before Sweden won.
    But if you have to have PKs, my preference would be the “hockey-style” PK, where the kicker starts 35 yards out and has only 6 seconds to shoot (or it counts as a miss/deflection) and the goalie can move the moment the whistle sounds to start time.

    1. There was no extra 5 minute OT in that game as you suggest, your memory is playing tricks on you.

      Hockey style PKs have been tried in soccer, they’re hilariously unsoccerlike.

  14. I’d rather they go back to the old corner kick rule; if at the end of overtime the teams are still both tied the team with the most corner kicks wins — as such this tended to measure dominance in the game, but it was also part of the game strategy to ensure itself — penalty kicks are not.

    I’m Canadian, so I’d be just as happy with a draw and both teams going home with gold medals if they are both that good, else keep playing until some one scores — see which team can maintain the pace to the end (it is a the final game after all, they can sleep in tomorrow).

  15. Some statistician recently (last couple of years) did a study of world class soccer matches and found the the results were quite random, using some statistical method that made sense when it was explained but which I havn’t wasted any brain space remembering.So it doesn’t matter how you decide the result, you may as well get the teams on the field and toss a coin!

    It’s somewhere on the net if you want to google for it.

  16. There was certainly luck involved, but not dumb luck. She realised, while in midair, that her only hope was to get her foot to the ball, looked over her shoulder, and raised her foot to where she hoped the ball would be. The luck was that she connected; her skill made the probability of this happening fairly high, whereas your average bozo (me, for example) would already be flat on his face with zero probability of doing anything useful. There’s probably a metaphor in here somewhere that can be used against the junkyard Boeing “argument”; I leave it to Dr. Coyne to extract it, should he think it worth his while.

    And I continue to think it was beautiful.

  17. Aargh.

    Someday I will learn to use a computer. My post at #16 was supposed to be a reply to NoAstronomer’s reply to my post at #12. Sorry.

  18. I still think—contrary to every other football fan on this website—that any World Cup final should be more than one game.

    Clearly, the more matches there are the less stochastics play a role in deciding the champion. But it would reduce the drama, and I think the pros already have way too many matches every continental/world championship season…

  19. I wonder how much celebratory cheer is warranted for sporting events in a deterministic cosmos, seeing as the outcome of every sporting event that has happened and will ever happen was and has already been determined by the causal matrix arising from the Big Bang.

    How can I care about a fixed match?

    Human beings are biological machines that “unfold” according to the laws of physics – they are not the origins of their actions and they do not deflect the course of events, but are merely conduits through which the processes of nature operate, little parishes of a boundless causal web arising from the Big Bang and perhaps terminating in the Big Crunch. Hence a women’s soccer match might as well be a soccer match played out among third-rate robotic machines made out of junkyard scraps. Same deal, essentially.

    In this light, it is near impossible for me to summon forth genuine excitement for any occurrence within human history, and to cultivate any sort of genuine hope for the future. Things will simply be what the Big Bang intended them to be.

    1. Ah, but what about when it’s inevitable that you will feel genuine excitement? 🙂

      It is quite funny that the Great Free Will Kerfuffle apparently isn’t a concern here. I never did find out why it was supposed to be such a big deal anyway.

      1. Yes, and why get furious – sorry, Dr Coyne! – about H Allen Orr’s review of Dawkin’s god-book when H. Allen Orr clearly was unable to write other than he did? And Jerry Coyne was unable to prevent himself from responding as he did, and I was somehow unable to stop myself from writing this as a result of Schleierman’s splendidly mischievous post…

        But since Japan is my home, I am very pleased with this result whether it was predestined or not (for the Calvinists certainly think God has got it all worked out beforehand, and so, as I recall, do the Catholics: the only difference being that Calvinists can, through the process of being ‘born-again’, recognise in this life that they belong to the elect, whereas Catholics can’t and don’t learn their doom until they die – there is, I think, small room for free will in at least some major brands of Xtianity).

  20. Technically the US has still never lost to Japan. This result goes down as a tie in the record books with Japan taking the title on a tiebreaker.

    The USA’s record against Japan is now something like 21-0-4

    I’m glad Japan won. The US has clearly fallen off since the 90s but their athleticism still earns them top spot sometimes in a sport that is only slowly developing real competition. If Japan or some other solid passing teams had the athletes the US had (and they will if ever Women’s soccer gets the support in other countries that it should get) the US would be in serious trouble.

  21. It’s good to see the joy on these Japanese faces in the wake of so much suffering and sacrifice in their country. A world cup is small compensation, but perhaps it will ignite small sparks of hope in many people who richly deserve it, and I have to feel good about that.

  22. Regarding the Golden Goal experiment. The idea was that the teams would go hell for leather to get the first goal and end the game. What actually happened was that both teams were petrified to concede a goal and lose so they didn’t go out to attack in case they left themselves open in defence. The result was that instead of an open attacking finale you got an ultra defensive and boring stalemate that probably ended in a penalty shootout anyway.
    And respect to Dr Coyne for referring to the Great Game as football instead of soccer as most Americans I’ve come across do.

    1. That tends to happen in soccer – it’s in a way related to way we have the offside rule.

      Offside encourages offense because you can’t cherry pick. If you could, players would and the defense would overcompensate, resulting in a spectacularly boring game with lots of punting and little skill and a clogged goalmouth. That’s how games actually were, so offside was created as a solution to that.

      More obvious attempts at making the game more offensive tend to be short-sighted and fail cause they overlook how defenses will react or whether offenses will consider the opportunity worth pushing for.

Leave a Reply