Have I mentioned the the thing I hate the most about soccer is that so many games - especially championship games - are decided by penalty kicks? (Oh yeah: I have. I don't even like them when my team wins.)
Such was the ending of yesterday's thrilling Women's World Cup championship. After playing to a 2-2 tie after 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of extra time, Japan defeated the United States 3-1 in penalty kicks to clinch their first-ever World Cup title.
It really is a disappointing way to decide a game. But the truth is that it never should have come to PKs. The US took the lead twice - once in regulation and once in extra time - and twice they allowed Japan to equalize. The Americans simply missed too many scoring opportunities on offense - shots on goal that hit the posts or otherwise went wide - and suffered from some sloppy play on defense (Japan's first goal, for example, was created by the fact that the Americans couldn't manage to clear the ball out of the penalty box).
As disappointed as I am in the way the game ended - the fact that the United States lost as well as the fact that it was decided on goofy penalty kicks - I can't help but be impressed by the tenacity and determination of the Japanese team. They were underdogs throughout the tournament and pulled off three compelling upsets in the knockout stage - against host Germany and Sweden as well as the United States - to claim the championship. They also provided some joy and pride for a country that just a few months ago was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami that resulted in 23,000 deaths and a nuclear emergency. That's something that everybody, Americans included, can feel good about.
But I still hate penalty kicks.