SheBelieves Cup Final
Wednesday March 7
10:30 PM GMT
On the previous evening, Manchester United traveled to the West Midlands where they defeated West Bromwich Albion by a score of 3-1 (March 6). Now back to West Didsbury, Kakeru already finished his day reading a few medical books that would help him with his clinical work. Nevertheless, he had time to follow the news involving Nadeshiko Japan in the SheBelieves Cup. On that Wednesday evening, Kakeru was texting Nana a few words of support ahead of an important match in that tournament.
"Best of luck tonight, Nana. Make sure to come back with a winner's medal." Kakeru texted.
At the other end of the communication in the United States, Nana replied: "We will go for it."
"But most important: come back in one piece." Kakeru texted.
"Thanks, Kakeru. Good game yesterday against West Brom. Gotta go now. -XXX"
'I know you can do this, Seven. This is one big step you can make on the international stage.' Kakeru thought.
Kakeru wished he could watch the match on television, but it was set to start a little over midnight in the UK (7:00 PM normal time on the American East Coast). Like his other Manchester United teammates, he had to sleep well before going back to the training ground in the next morning. Hence, all Kakeru could do was to hope and pray for the best.
United States WNT vs. Nadeshiko Japan (SheBelieves Cup match 3)
Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Before the SheBelieves Cup was established in 2016, the main yearly invitational tournament for national teams in women’s football was the Algarve Cup. However, the small stature of the Algarve Cup, the remote location of the Portugal-based tournament, and the struggles for regular TV coverage prompted the US Soccer federation to create their own annual tournament on American soil with the purpose of inviting some of the best national teams in the world. Since the first edition of the SheBelieves Cup, the tournament is now regarded as a mainstay event that helps growing the women's game. Although the tournament takes place at the same time most European professional leagues enter crucial months in their respective campaigns, agreements in place allow all female players to be released for international duty in this tournament as well as for other tournaments.
The tournament hosts 4 teams figuring in the top 5 in FIFA rankings. All 4 teams each participate in 3 doubleheader events at 3 different venues over a seven-day period. The winner of the tournament is determined by the team that won most points at the end of the 3-match round robin. In the case 2 teams are tied on points, final standings are then determined by the following order of criteria: goal difference, goals scored, head-to-head points, head-to-head goal difference, head-to-head number of goals scored, and FIFA rankings.
For Nadeshiko Japan, their return among the top elite nations meant a first participation to the SheBelieves Cup. In the tournament so far, Nadeshiko Japan defeated England (2-1; March 1) and Germany (1-0; March 4). However, the United States Women's National Soccer Team (USWNT) also won their respective matches against Germany (1-0; March 1) and England (2-0; March 4). As a result, goal differential was in favor of the United States. The only way Japan could hope to win the tournament was to beat the home side and favorites in what ended up as a final in itself. Having met several times in highly anticipated matches, including 2011 and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, and the 2012 London Olympics final, Nadeshiko Japan and the USWNT were about to write another chapter of this international rivalry.
For this match, your match commentators are Takumi Okada and former Nadeshiko Japan striker Makiko Yurikawa.
Takumi Okada: It is one of the biggest matchups in women's international soccer. No matter where the match takes place, you can feel the tension in the air every single time. Am I right, Yurikawa-san?
Makiko Yurikawa: You're right on that, Okada-san. When I played for Nadeshiko Japan, that rivalry wasn't yet at the level it is now. We have seen lots of confrontations of high intensity between Nadeshiko Japan and America over the years since the 2011 World Cup final. I expect this one to be hardly fought as well.
Since the day Nana first joined Nadeshiko Japan, the team went under several changes. A number of players who featured in Nana's debut still remain in the squad in various roles, but the majority of the stalwarts from the 2011 World Cup-winning squad already retired from international duty. Taeko Ishiki is still on the team in the first half of her 30s, but stands as a substitute rather than as a starter these days. The likes of Mizuho Sakaguchi and Sakura Otsuki were also among the veterans on the bench. Younger players like Yui Hasegawa, Kumi Yokoyama, Risa Shimizu, Rin Sumida, and Mana Iwabuchi have been brought in the squad so the likes of Nana and Mai can eventually build group chemistry that would come in handy for several years to come.
Nadeshiko Japan started with the following 4-4-2 lineup: Ayaka Yamashita (#18; goalkeeper). Risa Shimizu (#22; right-back), Mina Nakae (#5; centre-back), Saki Kumagai (#4; captain and centre-back), Aya Sameshima (#3; left-back), Chika Nakamura (#11; right winger), Rumi Utsugi (#2; central midfielder), Nana Mishima (#7; central midfielder), Yui Hasegawa (#14; left winger), Mana Iwabuchi (#8; striker), and Mai Murasaki (#9; striker).
On the other hand, the USWNT had the following 4-3-3 lineup: Alyssa Naeher (#1; goalkeeper), Taylor Smith (#22; right-back), Abby Dahlkemper (#7; centre-back), Tierna Davidson (#17; centre-back), Kelley O'Hara (#5; left-back), Carli Lloyd (#10; captain and central midfielder), Julie Ertz (#8; central midfielder), Lindsey Horan (#9; central midfielder), Mallory Pugh (#11; right forward), Alex Morgan (#13; striker), and Christen Press (#23; left forward).
A little over 7:00 PM EST (12:00 AM GMT), players from both teams were waiting in the tunnel for the referee's signal to come onto the pitch. As it is often the case, the USWNT field players wore all-white kits while Nadeshiko Japan field players wore their all-blue kits. Not many words were exchanged between the 2 sides, but one player from Nadeshiko Japan was quite a person of interest for a little chat with an American acquaintance.
"You look quite determined, Mishima."
"Alex Morgan. The last time I saw you, it was during last season at Old Trafford. You were a spectator in the stands for the day." Nana said.
"And you scored the late winner back then. That was quite a delightful moment." Alex replied. "But with all due respect, I don't need to play against men to prove myself as one of the best."
"Not just against any group of men, Alex. It's the Premier League - the toughest soccer league in the world." Nana retorted.
"I always wonder though. Did you ever look back and regret not choosing to play for the US a little? After all, you were born as an American, and you could have won it all with us." Alex asked.
"Never in a million years. I found my place in Japan instead of being looked at as the next Babe Ruth of women's soccer in the US like when I was 12."
"Well, good luck to you. You will need it on my home turf." Alex said.
"I make my own luck." Nana finished.
Both teams were then given the go to walk towards the playing surface under the loud cheers from the sellout crowd of 25,500 for the match. Although the stadium was mostly filled with supporters wearing American colors, the presence of Nana and Mai with Nadeshiko Japan brought a good share of Manchester United and Chelsea supporters from all over Florida. A group of Manchester United supporters from Orlando were particularly vocal in the stands while carrying Mancunian flags and wearing Mancunian shirts to support Nana.
Following the national anthems, the USWNT won the coin toss, and chose to let Nadeshiko Japan kicking things off. Upon the watch of the French referee, Nana and Mai were set to go.
Takumi Okada: And we are now under way in the SheBelieves Cup final!
Upon kickoff, Mai passed the ball backwards to Nana, who then passed backwards to the advancing Risa. After the 4 Japanese defenders kept passing the ball between themselves for a few seconds, Saki launched a long aerial ball forward to Mai. Unfortunately, Mai was put under pressure by Abby Dahlkemper, and accidentally headed the ball out on the touchline. Right from the start, Nadeshiko Japan conceded a throw-in for the Americans.
Takumi Okada: Smith will take the throw-in.
Taylor Smith threw the ball for Julie Ertz, who then kicked a long ball into the Japanese half. Going for the ball in the air, Alex managed to reach it before Saki could get there. The ball then bounced off Alex to reach Mallory Pugh a few yards ahead.
Takumi Okada: On by Pugh... Now it's Lloyd. Press is calling for it on the other side...
With 2 Japanese defenders standing in her way to the penalty area, Mallory Pugh chose to pass the ball backwards for US captain Carli Lloyd in midfield. Despite the defensive pressure applied by Nana, Carli managed to run forward, and got enough space to cross the long ball to the left. The cross arrived into Christen Press' feet on the opposite flank, and she finished the play with a volley shot that left no chance for the Japanese goalkeeper, who didn't make a move.
Takumi Okada: Christen Press with the volley… and a goal! And America opened the score inside 45 seconds. It's the quickest goal in the short history of the SheBelieves Cup final. Christen Press hits a rocket.
Makiko Yurikawa: Well, Risa Shimizu got dragged in so early in this move. Look at Shimizu's position: she's too close to the middle, and she has her eyes on Alex Morgan. Press makes the call on the left side a few times, but there was no reaction from Shimizu whatsoever. You cannot leave a player like Christen Press with that much space and time, because this is what happens: textbook volley with the left foot.
Takumi Okada: Certainly not the start Nadeshiko Japan hoped for, but it's a very good start for America.
The Nadeshiko Japan players were surprised to concede the first goal that early in the match, but they also knew that the best way to counter the early setback was to establish some momentum on the attack. Just 5 minutes later, Nadeshiko Japan launched a first serious threat on goal with a play that started with a throw-in for the Japanese deep into American territory.
Takumi Okada: Throw-in taken by Nakamura for Shimizu. Long cross in by Shimizu...
The long diagonal cross from the Japanese right-back was intended towards Mana Iwabuchi at the near post, but Tierna Davidson intervened by heading the ball away. However, Mana's body positioning forced the American defender to precipitate her clearance right towards the edge of the penalty area where the Little Witch was ready to unleash a shot.
Takumi Okada: That was intended for Iwabuchi, and this is Nana Mishima...
Nana struck a low shot that rolled off the mark to Alyssa Naeher's right, but the most dangerous player in the area was Mai, who managed to sneak past her markers. Fortunately for the Americans, Mai barely missed the toe poke, and the ball rolled behind for a goal kick.
Makiko Yurikawa: Ohh!
Takumi Okada: Murasaki goes for it, and that was right across the face of goal!
Makiko Yurikawa: Murasaki was just a whisker away of poking that one in. Alyssa Naeher was nowhere near the far post. Mishima's pass/shot came so close. Look at where Murasaki was lurking. She couldn't get to the ball, but only by a small margin.
While Mai was rueing the missed opportunity, she showed Nana a thumbs-up sign to acknowledge the attempted pass.
"That wasn't bad, Witch." Mai said.
"I will serve it right to your feet next time." Nana replied.
"It was just a whisker way. Let's keep on pushing, girls!" Rumi rallied her teammates.
Nadeshiko Japan continued to try controlling the match through skill and intelligent passes, but an experienced team such as the USWNT made it hard for the Nadeshiko to penetrate in the dangerous areas. Furthermore, the Americans had enough skill on their side to make any given opportunity count on the scoreboard.
In the 13th minute:
Takumi Okada: Given away by Davidson to Utsugi. Now, it's Nana Mishima on the attack... She has support arriving
Following Rumi's interception, the following pass came into Nana's feet. The Little Witch charged with the ball forward, and then passed the ball to Mai just in front of the American penalty area. However, Mai was quickly caught up by several American players, and ended up losing the ball despite some fancy footwork to try keeping the ball. At that moment, Julie Ertz pushed the ball the other way for Carli Lloyd.
Takumi Okada: Julie Ertz comes out with the ball. Now it goes to Carli Lloyd. America can be dangerous on counterattacks.
Carli ran several yards ahead before she passed the ball to her right and ahead to Alex Morgan. As Alex entered into the Japanese penalty area, she made a feint to shake off left-back Aya Sameshima, and then cut towards the inside. With a good angle for shot with her favored left foot, Alex blasted a rocket that flew past Ayaka Yamashita's fingertips and into the top corner. Suddenly, the very partisan crowd erupted for the second time on the night.
Takumi Okada: Alex Morgan, 0-2! Alex Morgan has doubled America's lead, and Nadeshiko Japan got themselves in a deep hole already. It's the number 13 who scores on the 13th minute.
Makiko Yurikawa: One of America's strengths is to hit opponents on the counterattack, and we have another example here. Murasaki found herself quickly closed down by 2-3 players in white. And then the ball was moved up quickly from Ertz to Lloyd, and to Morgan. You have to give credit to Alex Morgan for shaking off Sameshima, quickly chopping it back to that left foot, and blasting the shot. No chance for Yamashita on that shot.
"Well done, Alex! Great goal." Carli congratulated Alex.
"Thanks! That was a nice pass too."
"We have them where we want. Let's keep on going." Carli said.
Meanwhile, it was a tough moment for the Japanese, who saw their world collapsing before the first quarter of an hour was gone. The veteran Rumi Utsugi was mostly disappointed at the way the back line dealt with American attacks thus far.
"Are you asleep at the back? Give us a chance, for crying out loud!" Rumi gave her 2 cents.
"Keep your focus! We can't carry on if you defend like that. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE!" Nana added her own angry shout.
"They are both right! We need to do better. FOCUS!" Nadeshiko Japan captain Saki Kumagai rallied her defensive partners.
Using the momentum that was provided by the 2-goal lead, the Americans came with another serious attack within the following 2 minutes – in the 15th minute. Once again, it originated from a loose ball that was retrieved by the Americans inside their own half.
Takumi Okada: Utsugi heads the ball down. It comes forward for Mishima.
Nana attempted to start an attack in the American half, but Julie was closing down quickly on her. As a result, Nana precipitated a pass towards Yui on the left flank. Yui then tried to run past Taylor, but the American stripped the ball away before she started a counterattack. Taylor then passed the ball forward to Carli. The American captain ran just across the halfway line when she spotted the Japanese goalkeeper well ahead of her goal. Immediately, she decided to attempt something she once did against Nadeshiko Japan: sending a long lobbed shot from the middle of the pitch.
Takumi Okada: Carli Lloyd has seen Yamashita off her line...
Carli's long ball had both range and pace, and it appeared that it would dip right on cue into the net. However, Ayaka Yamashita just managed to fall back in time, and stopped the ball.
Takumi Okada: That was a very important save by Yamashita. She was alive enough to get to that long shot from Carli Lloyd.
Makiko Yurikawa: You have to wonder when Nadeshiko Japan will get started. Even if they just avoided falling behind by 3 goals, they have been unable to apply any sustained pressure in the final third of the pitch.
Although the Nadeshiko Japan players had a moment of relief, they really hated witnessing the American captain toying with them in such manner. As if the Japanese players needed to find a spark or the mentality of a wounded animal, Nana summed everything up in her thoughts: 'I have enough of this. If they want us to go all out, they will get it.'
Then Nadeshiko Japan launched a more penetrating attack for the first time in the 19th minute.
Takumi Okada: Utsugi... She gets past Lindsey Horan. Now Mishima...
Controlling the ball into American territory, Rumi managed to hold her ground against Lindsey Horan's defensive pressure to find Nana to her left despite the several white shirts around. Looking for options, only one person stood in front with her shoulders in line with the last defender.
"Witch!" Mai called for a pass.
Nana immediately passed the through ball into Mai's path for goal.
Takumi Okada: Good ball for Murasaki. Is this the moment?
Mai didn't have a direct path on goal, and was forced to aim for a diagonal shot. Nevertheless, the blonde Japanese striker shot the ball past Alyssa Naeher. Unfortunately, something unexpected happened.
Takumi Okada: It's blocked on the line by Davidson! It comes back in front again...
Tierna Davidson kicked the ball in the opposite direction to prevent the goal, but the ball bounced back towards a dangerous area where Nana followed up.
Takumi Okada: Mishima! Stopped by Naeher! The ball comes out... and the referee says goal kick.
Nana attempted a point blank shot, but Alyssa Naeher used her whole body to stop the shot before the ball bounced off Nana's leg, and rolled behind to safety. The USWNT came out unharmed by that play in the end.
"Chikusho! (Damn it!)" Nana cursed.
"They were lucky." Mai said.
"Good attempt, girls." Rumi acknowledged the quality effort.
"Yeah, we can find the gaps if we keep working." Nana replied.
Although Nadeshiko Japan didn't succeed in finding the back of the net in the midst of the previous chance, the daughters of the Land of the Rising Sun had no intention of stopping in their attempts to cut the American 2-goal lead piece by piece.
In the 24th minute:
Takumi Okada: O'Hara with the throw... Press... Her pass touches Utsugi.
As Christen attempted to do something with the ball, she attempted a pass towards Carli. However, Rumi got a toe poke on the ball, which then was deflected by Nana for Mai. Showing her back to an American defender, Mai returned the ball to the advancing Nana to start advancing with more momentum in the run.
Takumi Okada: Nadeshiko Japan are on the attack again with Mishima.
As Nana arrived within less than 30 yards from goal, Julie Ertz stood in the way, and tried to push the Little Witch in a wide position where the latter would not be a danger. However, Nana suddenly shifted her run towards the middle, and forced Julie Ertz to stick the leg out.
Takumi Okada: Mishima stumbles on Ertz, but carries on...
Nana was caught by Julie Ertz's leg, but managed to get back up on her feet as the referee played the advantage. Without any hesitation, Nana decided to go for a long-range shot like she trained to do so many times against men.
Takumi Okada: Mishima... HAS A GO! Tipped by Naeher onto the post...
Nana's shot had plenty of pace, but Alyssa Naeher just put enough of a glove on the shot to prevent a goal. However, the ball bounced off the post, and then rolled back in front of the 6-yard box with the goalkeeper out of position. Mai got to the loose ball first, but her instant strike was blocked by Abby Dahlkemper's leg. As a result the ball bounced behind for a corner kick.
Takumi Okada: Dahlkemper blocks Murasaki's shot, and it goes behind. It is a corner.
Makiko Yurikawa: Well, we all know Nana Mishima can hit those powerful shots. She has shown her ability in the Premier League. Mishima gets tripped by Julie Ertz, but stays up and carries on with the shot. It took everything for Alyssa Naeher to deflect that ball onto the post. And then Murasaki came in, and she was onside as she went for the rebound. Unfortunately, Dahlkemper got enough of a touch on Murasaki's shot to put it wide.
Meanwhile on the Japanese bench, it was disbelief among most players:
"I was sure that was going in." Rin said.
"I can't believe we missed that." Mizuho added.
"I know we were unlucky, but we have to keep pushing now at all costs." Taeko replied.
"I hope you're right, but it has not been our day so far." Kumi said.
"I know Nana-chan and Mai-chan. The experience they gained from playing against men at the highest level taught them one very important thing: never give up at all." Taeko finished.
With Nadeshiko Japan doing most of the attack for several minutes, it could be easy for anybody to forget the quality of the opponent. One of the players on the USWNT was about to remind everyone why that team was easily one of the very best and most consistent national sides in the women's game.
In the 28th minute:
Takumi Okada: Shimizu with the cross... It's headed away by Davidson.
After a failed attempt to attack the American goal, the headed ball went to Alex Morgan almost to the middle of the pitch. Alex then made a small back pass to the advancing Carli, who then passed the ball to Alex. The following pass then cut between Risa and Mina to reach Christen, who was dashing down the Japanese right wing.
Takumi Okada: America on the counterattack. Morgan has found Press. Lloyd is making a break...
"Chris!" Carli shouted for a pass.
Without further delay, Christen passed the ball into the middle and into Carli's run. The American captain was beating her nearest opponent for speed, and took advantage of the gap left between Mina and Saki. Despite Saki's efforts to close down on Carli, the American captain took a shot from outside the box.
Takumi Okada: There could be a problem here! Carli Lloyd...
The shot had pace, but Ayaka Yamashita perfectly timed her dive to get her right hand on the shot. The ball then bounced to a position for the Japanese defenders to recover and continue the play in the opposite direction.
Takumi Okada: Great save by Yamashita! Wonderful stop!
Meanwhile on the Japanese bench:
"Good stop, Ayaka-san!" Rin shouted.
"I have never been happier to see her make a save than now." Kumi added.
"She saved us big time there. It's up to the girls in front of her to start making shots count." Taeko replied before she turned her shout to her teammates on the field. "Keep attacking! Don't stop!"
Although the save should have served as a morale booster for the Nadeshiko Japan players, the last American attack cooled off the Nadeshiko's ambitions of attacking Alyssa Naeher's goal instead. For several minutes, no one really took a crack at the other side's goal. However, time in the first half was running out. With an increasing sense of urgency, the Nadeshiko moved forward, and took more risks in order to plant a seed of doubt before halftime.
In the 44th minute:
Takumi Okada: Lloyd tries to shake off Utsugi... can't. Utsugi steals the ball away. She plays the 1-2 with Mishima.
In an attempted counterattack, Carli got the ball taken away from her by Rumi. The Japanese midfielder then passed the ball to Nana, who relayed the ball on the right flank for Risa. The Japanese right-back supported the attack, and then unleashed a cross inside the American penalty area. The ball missed Mana Iwabuchi's head, but then bounced off the surprised Abby Dahlkemper to roll towards an open space where Mai was able to unleash the shot. For the first time in the match, Alyssa Naeher was not able to make the save.
Takumi Okada: Comes back for MURASAKI! IT'S IN! The woman who plays for the big club at Chelsea has cut the deficit to one goal for Nadeshiko Japan!
That goal late in the first half cast a shadow in the minds of the home supporters. It was almost total silence except for a small number of spectators inside the stadium.
"Get in! Well done!" Nana congratulated Mai.
"That was some strike!" Chika added.
"Thanks! Nice cross, Risa-chan. You surprised everyone with that." Mai acknowledged the brilliant play from her teammate.
"They are just human. We can go and tie this. Let's go, girls!" Saki rallied her teammates.
Makiko Yurikawa: They knocked, and knocked, and knocked. And finally, the door has been opened. Beautiful ball by Risa Shimizu, but it all started with a good tackle by Rumi Utsugi on Carli Lloyd. It's a turnover. Utsugi plays the 1-2 with Mishima, and finds Shimizu in the wide area. Then the cross comes in only to be miscued by Dahlkemper. Murasaki was not going to miss a sitter. Nadeshiko Japan are back in this match.
Mai's goal provided the momentum boost Nadeshiko Japan desperately needed. Knowing that the seed of doubt had been planted in the minds of the USWNT players, the Japanese players certainly intended to make full advantage of the situation by mounting another attack in the lone minute of injury time before the halftime whistle.
Takumi Okada: Sameshima has the ball... She passes ahead to Hasegawa.
In the American half, Aya passed the ball ahead for Yui. The Japanese left winger came up facing Taylor Smith, and then turned up the pace to arrive at the side of the American penalty area.
Takumi Okada: Hasegawa runs past Smith with some pace. She finds Mishima inside the penalty area...
The ball arrived inside the penalty area, but Nana had to deal with Carli closing in from behind and with 2 American defenders trying to block shooting lanes, all of that within a couple of seconds,
Takumi Okada: Mishima holds the ball. She turns, but can't shoot...
Looking for options, Nana spotted the running Chika. At the right split second, Nana passed the ball in the area by the penalty spot, and Chika immediately unleashed the one-timer shot while Mai acted as a screen of some sort in front of Alyssa Naeher.
Takumi Okada: She finds NAKAMURA! It's off the crossbar! This time, it's the woodwork coming to save America.
The ball unfortunately struck right onto the crossbar, and bounced out for a goal kick, much to the disappointment of the Nadeshiko Japan players both on the pitch and on the bench.
Makiko Yurikawa: It started with a great run by Yui Hasegawa. She gets past Taylor Smith with a change of pace, and then finds Mishima. Nana Mishima manages to hold the ball against 2-3 white shirts before she lays off that ball in a good position for Nakamura. Unfortunately for her, the ball flies right into the crossbar.
Takumi Okada: This could be the last action before halftime.
In fact, that last attack was the last significant action of the first half. After Alyssa Naeher took the goal kick, the referee blew the halftime whistle. Although Nadeshiko Japan started the match very poorly, they managed to hold off the USWNT before launching a number of attacks that finally cut the deficit down to a single goal. Both teams knew that the next 45 minutes would be long ones to come.
In Nadeshiko Japan's dressing room, the players were ready for the head coach's speech. Since Norio Sasaki left the position in 2016, the new head coach is a former Nadeshiko Japan player who played mainly in the 1990s and the first female head coach at the helm of Nadeshiko Japan. Asako Takakura is mainly known for being an excellent teacher of the game who focuses on good positioning. There were a few things she was not happy about in the first half, and she was about to make herself clear.
"The good news is that we are still within range of putting the game on terms with them before we go for the win. The problem is that you haven't followed my instructions on defensive positioning in the first half; it was horrible on both American goals. You need to keep bodies between their players and the goal. Keep your eyes open for anyone who comes into the danger areas. If you want to win the cup, hold your ground better. Is that clear?" Asako said.
"HAI! (YES!)" the Nadeshiko players replied.
"For the attack, I want to see more pressure on their back line. Don't be afraid in being creative against them in the final third. They might be tall at the back, but they can't cover everything if we can surprise them with the unexpected. Now, come and take it to them."
After the pep talk, the Nadeshiko Japan attacking-minded players sat down to have a chat about what to do next ahead of the second half.
"I hope you have a few more tricks in the bag for today, Witch. They will probably throw everything at the two of us since we are the driving force going forward." Mai said.
"I will try, but a change in tactics has to be in the cards in order to increase pressure on them." Nana replied.
"I'm sure the coach will make changes around the hour mark. Adding a couple of fresh runners would give the Americans something to think about." Taeko said.
"Tae-san is right, Nana-chan. If we have at least a second runner alongside Mai-chan by the time they start getting tired, they would not be able to commit that many players on you." Chika added. "Still, I will give it all out there even if I'm not as young as I used to be."
"OK. We just have to hold things tight at both ends of the pitch, and exploit the open spaces when they appear." Nana replied.
"Let's do this." Mai finished.
Both teams went back on the pitch for the second half. The USWNT kicked off the hostilities for the next period of 45 minutes, and controlled most of the ball for the first 90 seconds. At that moment, the Americans earned a corner kick with the clear intention of regaining their 2-goal cushion.
Takumi Okada: It's a corner for America.
Abby took the corner kick, and sent the ball towards the mass of players in front of the Japanese goal. However, the Japanese goalkeeper managed to grab the ball in the air, and then waited a few seconds before she passed the ball forward to Nana. Nadeshiko Japan went on the counterattack.
Takumi Okada: Mishima is on the attack across the halfway line. She faces Carli Lloyd...
"Come on! Have a go." Carli defied Nana.
'You will get it.' Nana thought.
For a few seconds that felt like several minutes, Nana and Carli faced each other. Ultimately, Nana surprised Carli with a heel-to-heel flick before skipping past the American captain.
Takumi Okada: She gets past Lloyd. Now it's for Nakamura on the right.
"Nana-chan!" Chika shouted.
Entering at the limit of the attacking third of the pitch, Nana almost immediately completed the give-and-go with Chika to shake off an opponent. At the same time, Christen tackled Chika down with a late challenge from behind. Unfortunately for Nadeshiko Japan, the referee blew the whistle although the advantage could be given.
Takumi Okada: Nakamura goes down and...
Makiko Yurikawa: Oh, let it go, referee! I don't believe it!
The Nadeshiko Japan players were absolutely livid at the referee who denied the advantage.
"Why? I already passed the ball!" Chika protested.
"J'avais le ballon! C'était quoi, ça? C’est une disgrace! (I had the ball! What was that? It's a disgrace!)" Nana added vehemently her own voice to the protests.
"C'était une mauvaise décision et vous le savez. Il y avait un avantage (It was a bad decision, and you know it. There was an advantage)." Saki, who was also fluent enough in French, protested to the referee.
“Il y avait une faute et je dois donner un carton à la joueuse (There was a foul, and I have to book the player)." the French referee brushed away all protests. After that, the referee pulled the yellow card out of her pocket. "Christen! Christen, come here! That was a very late tackle. No more of that."
Makiko Yurikawa: That's really poor, really poor. I know you want to book her, but book her later.
Takumi Okada: Nana Mishima was furious and with good reason. Christen Press takes the yellow card.
Makiko Yurikawa: That's an example of when referees have no idea about the game at all.
Saki guided her teammates to stand ready as the following indirect free kick could be an interesting chance to tie the game at 2 goals apiece.
"You think you can put a good ball in the pack?" Saki asked.
"Yeah, Captain. Just make sure to flood the penalty area with players." Nana replied before she turned towards Mina Nakae. "I know you can get your head on that ball. Go for it."
"OK, Nana-chan." Mina replied.
Then both teams moved into position for the free kick. Everyone knew that the only way to get something out of an indirect free kick with a distance of more than 30 yards from goal would either come from a header or from a scramble in the penalty area. Finally, the signal was given.
Takumi Okada: Mishima will take...
Nana took the shot, and let the ball fly towards the area just in front of the "no man's land" in the American penalty area. In the mass of players running either to defend or attack, Mina managed to gain her position in front of her marker. The Japanese defender then jumped in the air, and touched the underside of the ball with her head. Bouncing off Mina's head, the ball then looped into the top corner of the goal. Alyssa Naeher was left standing in absolute surprise.
Takumi Okada: And IT'S A GOAL! From Mishima to Nakae! It's Mina Nakae's goal! We are now all tied: 2-2!
The first person Mina went to after the goal was Nana.
"Great goal, Mina-san!" Nana said.
"That was a perfect ball! Nice pass, Nana-chan." Mina replied.
"You did it, Mina-san!" Mai congratulated as she jumped over Mina's shoulders in celebration.
"Way to go, Mina! Let's go for the next goal now!" Saki said.
"HAI!" the other Nadeshiko Japan players replied.
Meanwhile, the American supporters were stunned by what just happened: Nadeshiko Japan came back from behind to wipe out a 2-goal deficit with plenty of time left in the match. Such reaction from the crowd tells that such feat did not happen often in the history of the USWNT.
Makiko Yurikawa: It was a very good ball by Mishima, but what a superb header by Mina Nakae. She just helps the ball on with the right amount of contact on that header, and she knows where the goal is. The pace and the change in direction of the ball baffled Alyssa Naeher completely. It's now anyone's game very early in the second half.
Takumi Okada: From nowhere to parity. Nadeshiko Japan saw America open the score in the first minute of the first half, and now have scored the equalizer in the first 3 minutes of the second half.
Meanwhile, it was jubilation on the Japanese bench.
"Well done, Mina!" Taeko shouted.
"That was beautiful." Mizuho said.
"Yeah, it takes composure to hit a ball with the head like that." Rin replied.
"We can do this." Kumi said.
As much as Christen's early opening goal stung the Japanese very deeply, Mina's goal in the early moments of the second half had the same effect upon the Americans. As a result, Nadeshiko Japan took the ascendancy, and started launching more incisive attacks against the goal defended by their shell-shocked opponents.
In the 50th minute:
Takumi Okada: Retrieved by Shimizu. Now, it's Mishima.
Nana chested the ball down, but had her back against Julie Ertz, who was blocking any direct progress beyond the center circle. Carli was also adding defensive pressure against Nana. Without any hesitation, Nana passed the ball back to Rumi, who then sent a through ball for the running Mai.
Takumi Okada: Utsugi... It has gone through for Murasaki. She's got Dahlkemper after her...
Mai was beating the American defenders on speed. She had almost a clear run towards the American goal. However, Abby managed to stick her leg into the shooting lane as Mai took the shot. The ball was deflected behind for a Japanese corner kick.
Takumi Okada: Blocked by Dahlkemper. It's a corner for Nadeshiko Japan.
Nana then moved into position to take the corner kick. When the referee gave the signal to proceed, Nana whipped a curled ball that flew towards an area where Mina was left on her own for a split second. The Japanese defender had a free header on goal.
Takumi Okada: Good ball in... Oh! A good save by Alyssa Naeher on Mina Nakae!
Mina's strong header was stopped at point blank by Alyssa Naeher, and the rebound was sent high and wide to goal by Saki. The USWNT escaped going behind on the scoreboard, but only just. Meanwhile, no one associated with Nadeshiko Japan could believe what they just saw.
Takumi Okada: The rebound goes wide. Oh, Nadeshiko Japan came really close, but couldn't score past Alyssa Naeher this time.
Makiko Yurikawa: It's a pure reflex save. Alyssa Naeher had no time to react at all, and yet manages to put her arms to stop the shot by Nakae. Nakae was that close from scoring her second goal of the night. The game is still tied at 2-2.
"Good try, Mina-san." Nana said to Mina, who replied with a thumbs-up sign.
"That was a good effort. We'll get them next time." Mai said.
Despite having not capitalized on the last 2 chances they just had, Nadeshiko Japan were not finished with the wave of attacks on the American goal. Only 3 minutes later, the daughters of the Land of the Rising Sun had another good opportunity to take the lead.
In the 53rd minute:
Takumi Okada: A pass towards Alex Morgan... It's intercepted by Nakae. Going forward for Mishima...
Again Nana had 2 American players trying to tightly mark her, but she didn't keep the ball for long. After a side pass to Rumi, the latter kicked a through pass behind the American defenders. For a split second, everyone thought the ball would go for Mai. However, Mai used herself as a decoy to lure defenders out of position, and the real receiver was the running Chika Nakamura. The veteran Japanese winger was skipping past Kelley O'Hara.
Takumi Okada: Utsugi... It goes for Nakamura...
Chika then took the shot. The ball was deflected by Kelley's leg, but continued a looping trajectory towards goal. Alyssa Naeher was left helpless until...
Takumi Okada: OH! IT HITS THE CROSSBAR! It still won't go in!
The ball bounced off the crossbar and into a position where Abby kicked the ball on the sidelines in panic.
"Keep your markings tight, for Christ!" Alyssa angrily shouted at her defenders.
Makiko Yurikawa: It came off Kelley O'Hara, Okada-san. That's why Alyssa Naeher was helpless on the shot, but luck came on her side with the crossbar. It was a brilliant pass by Utsugi for Nakamura to say the least.
On the Japanese bench, the substitutes could only watch in disbelief at another missed opportunity.
"How did that not go in?" Kumi asked. "I was sure that would be a goal."
"Luck has been on their side in the last few minutes, but we are doing well by sustaining that pressure upon them. We have to keep going, but be clever as well." Taeko replied.
Having missed all of their chances after Mina's equalizing goal thus far, there was also a risk that the USWNT can regain the momentum, which would shift the action towards the other end of the pitch. Before long, the experienced American side regained their defensive composure, and waited for the opportunity to launch a swift counterattack.
In the 58th minute:
Takumi Okada: Utsugi... passes in-field towards Mishima. It's intercepted by Davidson for America.
Starting an attack, Rumi attempted a pass towards Nana. However, the pass got intercepted by Tierna Davidson, who then passed the ball towards Carli in the middle of the park. After making a run towards the halfway line on the counterattack, Carli kicked a long pass forward for Alex Morgan.
Takumi Okada: Carli Lloyd... finds Alex Morgan. Nadeshiko Japan stretched...
With only Mina standing as a last defender, Alex turned the Japanese defender inside out, and took advantage of Mina's stumble to carve an open path towards Ayaka's goal. Despite Saki's best efforts to get back into a good defensive position from behind Alex, the American striker took a direct shot on goal.
Takumi Okada: Morgan gets away from Nakae... Saved by Yamashita!
Ayaka moved forward, and succeeded in getting a hand on Alex's shot. However, the rebound looped into the air and out of Ayaka's sight. Below the ball, Alex waited to strike the volley. As Alex took the volley shot attempt, the contact was not as clean as she would have wanted. As a result, it was a slow ball that was easily retrieved by Saki, who then passed the ball forward and safely to a teammate as the play continued.
Takumi Okada: Oh, it's miscued by Morgan. Saki Kumagai gets it off the line.
Watching the ball being taken away to safety, Alex sighed in despair knowing that she wasted the best chance the USWNT had at the time in the second half. The sentiment was also shared by the several thousands of people inside the Orlando City Stadium.
'What was I thinking? I should have taken my time just now.' Alex thought.
From that point onwards, the match went on back and forth. Nadeshiko Japan replaced Yui with Kumi on the left wing. Meanwhile, the USWNT replaced Christen with the dangerous Megan Rapinoe in the 65th minute before they replaced Julie Ertz with Morgan Brian. Despite the changes, neither team was able to break the deadlock. As minutes winded down, composure became more and more important as one mistake could swing odds of victory towards the other side. However, one incident would spark a clash of 2 hot tempers on opposite sides.
In the 74th minute:
Takumi Okada: It's a giveaway by Horan. It's Utsugi for Nadeshiko Japan... skips past Morgan Brian's tackle.
After retrieving a pass that went astray, Rumi started the Japanese counterattack. A few yards ahead, Rumi was slightly touched by Morgan Brian's tackle. Nevertheless, Rumi got past the American midfielder, and then passed the ball forward to Nana in the following second.
Takumi Okada: Here's Mishima. She has options on the sides and ahead...
Nana then passed the ball to Kumi, who then sent a ball behind the American defenders. The pass was intended for Mai, but the blonde Chelsea striker was forced to run after the ball as it was rolling quite fast.
Takumi Okada: The ball might be going too deep…
As Mai followed the ball towards the goal line, Alyssa also followed the ball. The American goalkeeper decided to shield the ball with her own body. Mai tried to force her way past Alyssa, but both players tangled into each other and fell onto the pitch.
Takumi Okada: It will be a goal kick… and something is going on down there.
After Mai and Alyssa fell onto the ground, the American goalkeeper, who was on top of Mai, gave a nudge with the left knee on Mai's chest. Obviously displeased by the nudge, Mai responded by shoving Alyssa back with both arms. After Mai got up on her feet, both she and Alyssa shoved each other, and started a heated verbal exchange.
"What's your problem?" Alyssa asked.
"YOU are the problem." Mai replied.
"Don't try me!"
"You think I'm impressed? Come on, let's go!" Mai said.
In the following second, both Japanese and American players separated the belligerents. However, it was not quite the end of the exchange between Mai and the American goalkeeper.
"Calm down, Mai-chan!" Nana pleaded.
"Enough, Mai-chan!" Saki added while she, Nana, and Mina restrained Mai physically.
"I'll see you out there, you ****! I'll see you out there!" Mai continued shouting and pointing fingers at Alyssa.
"We can't go down to 10 players now, Mai-chan." Mina said to Mai.
At the same time, Carli and Tierna restrained Alyssa as well.
"That's enough! Back off!" Carli said.
"That little *****! What's wrong with her?" Alyssa asked.
"Calm down!" Carli ordered her teammate. "We can't afford anything crazy now, so we need you to stay frosty. Don't let her get inside your head. One single mistake can cost the game now."
After things settled down a little, the referee came in to show yellow cards to both Mai and Alyssa. However while attention was diverted to the recent clash, the Nadeshiko Japan physiotherapist was attending to an injured Rumi behind the play. Rumi landed a little awkwardly after getting past Carli earlier, and pulled her hamstring muscle in the process. Nadeshiko Japan was forced to make a second substitution with 16 minutes of normal time left.
"There's the signal from the physio. We have to replace Rumi." assistant coach Naomi Minaba said.
"Sumida-chan will fill the spot in midfield." Asako replied.
"Are you sure, Coach?" Naomi asked. "We might need experience in midfield."
"I know she will do just fine." Asako replied before she turned towards Rin. "Sumida-chan, you're going on."
"Hai!" Rin replied.
Takumi Okada: Just as the temperature goes up by a few notches, Nadeshiko Japan are about to make a change. Rin Sumida will replace the injured Rumi Utsugi.
As if the rivalry between the 2 teams needed to be burning even stronger, the tension was palpable. In the 81st minute, a test of character was about to come up.
Takumi Okada: It's a corner for America.
As both teams positioned themselves for the following corner kick, the Nadeshiko Japan players knew that they had to keep their eyes open with Megan Rapinoe on the pitch, especially in situations where she can launch a long ball towards a teammate's head.
Megan Rapinoe took the corner kick, but the ball was cleared by Mina. However, the ball was still in play as it went back towards Rapinoe. Waiting for a couple of seconds, she feinted going with the left foot only to shoot the aerial ball with the right foot. Having escaped her marker, Carli had the split second needed to strike a header shot that flew with high speed above Mai's head, but under the crossbar at the near post. In a blink of an eye, it was rapturous joy inside the Orlando City Stadium as USA took the 3-2 advantage.
Takumi Okada: LLOYD! The Americans have regained the lead.
Makiko Yurikawa: Megan Rapinoe finds the head of a teammate on a long ball. How many times have we seen that over the years? The first kick was blocked by Nakae, but bounced back towards Rapinoe. Nakamura gets in there too late. Rapinoe sends the ball in to Carli Lloyd, who slipped past the defender for a split second. It was just enough to make a difference.
While most of Nadeshiko Japan players were in utter shock, Mai was the first to shake off the disappointment of letting that goal in. She picked up the ball from the back of the net.
"This is not over! We go for the next goal!" Mai rallied her teammates while carrying the ball towards the center circle.
"We can still get back in this. Come on!" Nana added.
Spurred by their 2 attacking leaders, the other Nadeshiko Japan players moved into their respective positions for the restart. At that moment, time was Japan's worst enemy.
Takumi Okada: So Nadeshiko Japan fell behind again with 9 minutes and stoppage time to go. Can they write one more chapter to this match?
In the center circle, Nana and Mai had a few words between them.
"As soon as you see an opportunity to make a through pass, do it. I'll settle the score with Naeher." Mai said.
"Just time your run right. I'll find the passing lane." Nana replied.
Then Mai passed the ball to Nana, who passed the ball for Rin. The Japanese midfielder moved forward with the ball, but had to face defensive pressure coming from Mallory Pugh. Without hesitation, Rin passed the ball towards Kumi on the Japanese left flank where Taylor Smith was standing.
Takumi Okada: Yokoyama... has to deal with Smith.
In a very smart move, Kumi managed to nutmeg Taylor, and then continued her run forward. In the process, she was forcing Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian to run back into a defensive position. The young Japanese winger was well into the Americans' final third of the pitch.
"Kumi!" Nana shouted.
Having spotted Nana, Kumi passed the ball towards her. Playing the surprise card, Nana flicked the ball over the 2 American central defenders and into Mai's run. Mai also managed to beat the offside trap.
Takumi Okada: Mishima... It's Murasaki with space…
Finding herself in a 1v1 situation a charging Alyssa Naeher, Mai decided to chip the ball above her opponent. Transported by momentum, Alyssa collided straight into Mai. The referee was about to blow her whistle, but waited.
Takumi Okada: Brought down by Naeher!
As the ball was still loose, Kumi made full advantage of her speed and her fresh legs to beat the nearby American defenders in the race for the ball. With a simple touch of the right foot, Kumi tapped the ball into the deserted net.
Takumi Okada: YOKOYAMA FINISHES IT OFF! How about that? What a response by Nadeshiko Japan! As soon as they have a setback, then they strike back. The match is level again! 3-3!
As the Nadeshiko Japan players ran to congratulate Kumi, Mai got back on her feet, and said to Alyssa with a smirk: "You're lucky."
Makiko Yurikawa: It was a lovely ball by Nishima to put Murasaki in. Then Murasaki does ever so well to chip the ball over Naeher. Also, the referee redeemed herself for earlier by playing the advantage this time. Alyssa Naeher can be thankful for that because she certainly would have been sent off if the advantage wasn't given. All credit goes to Murasaki for pressing forward and to Yokoyama for the follow-up.
Takumi Okada: Forty seconds! That was the time between the last 2 goals. This crazy game can still have a lot more ahead.
"Well done, Kumi!" Nana congratulated her teammate.
"You did it, Kumi-chan!" Mina added.
"Thanks, but a good thanks to Mai." Kumi replied as she pointed at Mai to congratulate her. "That was one great chip, Mai."
"Thanks a lot for following me up, Kumi." Mai replied.
"We've got them where we want them to be. Let's keep it tight, and hit them when we can." Saki said to her teammates.
"HAI!" the Nadeshiko Japan players replied.
With the game brought back to parity because Nadeshiko Japan took advantage of the moment of vulnerability that could easily follow a goal no matter how much experience a team has, the USWNT took a more conservative approach from that point. The USWNT coach knew that she needed only a draw to see her team win the tournament on goal difference. Hence, avoiding defeat became a top priority.
Between Kumi's goal and the last moments of normal time, not much happened between the 2 sides. The USWNT replaced Mallory Pugh with another defender in the 84th minute with the main purpose of keeping the score intact at the very least. In the 89th minute, Nadeshiko Japan proceeded with their final substitution. The fourth official showed numbers 9 in red and 13 in green on the electronic board that confirmed the substitution.
Takumi Okada: Coming off the bench is Taeko Ishiki. It looks like she is about to replace Mai Murasaki.
Makiko Yurikawa: Well, you can understand the substitution. Murasaki contributed with a goal and an assist, but she also spent a lot of energy against the American defenders. She also picked up a yellow card earlier.
Takumi Okada: So far, it has been a great effort by Nadeshiko Japan. But remember: America would still win the SheBelieves Cup on total goal differential as things stand.
"You did very well, Mai-chan." Taeko said.
"Thanks, Tae-san. Give them a miserable time." Mai replied.
As Taeko walked onto the pitch, Carli thought: 'So this is the first time we play a cup final against both Ishiki and Mishima on the same pitch. Ishiki can still be lethal up front, but she needs Mishima to feed her as much as Mishima needs a striker like Ishiki as a target player. Japan would have been a more dangerous opponent in the 2012 and 2015 finals if the two of them managed to play together. We better be careful now.'
The play then continued as we were entering the first of 3 minutes of stoppages.
Takumi Okada: Horan... can't get past Sumida. Play goes on the wing for Rapinoe...
Megan Rapinoe then came face to face with Risa. The Japanese right-back tried to stand her ground, but she was physically exhausted. With a skilled feint, Rapinoe ran past Risa, and then cut her run towards the Japanese goal. Mina was forced to intervene with a tackle, but her attempt proved to be both late and lazy inside the penalty area, and it resulted in what Nadeshiko Japan didn't want to see at any cost.
Takumi Okada: Oh, Rapinoe goes down... and the referee gives a penalty for America!
Several thousands of American supporters cheered as victory was almost a formality in stoppage time with the penalty being the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. Totally distraught as she realized her own mistake, Mina didn't protest to the referee. She could only hold her hands in her face in despair before Taeko tried to comfort her old friend.
"I'm sorry, everyone. I'm very sorry." Mina apologized.
"Stay strong, Mina." Taeko replied.
"Keep the faith until the very end." Nana added, but knew deep inside that odds were not really good for Nadeshiko Japan at that time.
Makiko Yurikawa: Well, I thought that was a penalty as well. I think Mina Nakae knows it. There is not one complaint from a Nadeshiko Japan player. Megan Rapinoe drove her way past Shimizu, and was cutting across for goal when Nakae committed herself with the late tackle. There was no possible argument.
Takumi Okada: Carli Lloyd will take the penalty that would give the SheBelieves Cup in her hands. The captain, the heart, and the soul of this American team...
Carli stalled the play for a few seconds knowing that it would be extremely difficult for Japan to attempt an attack if the following play resulted in a goal with little time left. As everyone but shooter and goalkeeper stood in position outside the penalty area, all eyes were on the duel between the American captain and the Japanese goalkeeper.
With a short run, Carli attempted to surprise Ayaka with a kick to the goalkeeper's left with a right-footed strike. However, Ayaka didn't commit herself too early, and then jumped to her left at the right split second. The final outcome was a very good save that conceded a corner kick for the USWNT while keeping the score at 3-3, much to the disbelief of the home supporters.
Takumi Okada: SAVED BY YAMASHITA! Nadeshiko Japan needed a save from their goalkeeper, and they have it! They are still alive!
The Nadeshiko Japan players rushed to congratulate their goalkeeper.
"YOSHAAA!!" Ayaka Yamashita shouted.
"Great save, Ayaka-san!" Nana said.
"Thanks a lot for saving it big time!" Mina added.
"We're still in this. Well done." Saki added.
On the following corner kick, Megan Rapinoe took a curling shot towards the mass of players. Before Alex Morgan could reach the ball with her head, Ayaka caught the ball in the air.
Takumi Okada: It's caught by Yamashita. Nadeshiko Japan can get players forward now.
Taking a quick look forward, Ayaka spotted a few teammates rushing forward. Without any hesitation, the Japanese goalkeeper threw the ball forward.
Takumi Okada: It's Rin Sumida who gets the ball. She has plenty of speed here...
Rin made a run for several yards with the ball until she passed it for Kumi on the left wing. Although Kumi tried a few feints as she went deep in the final third, the Americans had 2 defenders marking her. As a result, Kumi was forced to stay peripheral to the American penalty area. Nevertheless, Kumi earned a corner kick when her attempted cross bounced off an American defender and behind the goal line.
Takumi Okada: Yokoyama has won the corner kick. This might be the last kick of the match as we are in the last minute of injury time.
Before everyone could get into position for the corner kick, Nana had a quick talk with Kumi and Rin.
"I think you two can combine to create something here." Nana said.
"You're letting us take the corner kick?" Rin asked.
"Yep. Try finding Tae-san's head. I'll lurk outside the penalty area for loose balls."
"We'll do this." Kumi finished.
As Nana said, she moved towards the front of the penalty area, ready for any possibility. Finally, the referee gave the long awaited signal to carry on what would be the last action of normal time.
Kumi was the one to kick the short corner kick to Rin, who then played the layoff pass back to Kumi. After running with the ball for a couple of seconds, Kumi found the angle to shoot the aerial ball towards Taeko's position in the pack of players.
Takumi Okada: It's taken short. Yokoyama... it's a long ball in.
Taeko tried to reach the ball with the head, but Carli and Tierna also came in to meet her in the air.
"Not today." Carli said as she cleared the ball away from the penalty area.
Takumi Okada: Cleared by Lloyd...
However, the play was still on as the ball was bouncing just outside the penalty area. From that position, Nana followed her instinct by striking the one-timer shot with all the ferocity she could muster. What followed was like an arrow that burst the bottom corner of the goal and out of Alyssa Naeher's reach.
Makiko Yurikawa: YATTAAAAA!!!
Takumi Okada: MISHIMAAA!!! MISHIMAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! 4-3!!! NADESHIKO JAPAN HAVE WON IT! WITH NO TIME LEFT IN STOPPAGES, NANA MISHIMA SCORES THE WINNING GOAL FOR NADESHIKO JAPAN! VICTORY HAS BEEN SNATCHED FROM THE JAWS OF DEFEAT!
In one go, the whole Japanese bench erupted in total euphoria. All Japanese substitutes ran their way towards the celebrating Japanese players on the pitch to congratulate the instant heroine. On the other end of the spectrum of emotions, the American players and supporters could only stand watching in utter disbelief. Nana's goal was indeed scored as the final minute of injury time had just expired.
Makiko Yurikawa: In big games, you expect top players to deliver. My goodness, Nana Mishima did just that big time! She gave the corner kick duty to her teammates Sumida and Yokoyama this time. The cross by Yokoyama was cleared by Lloyd, but Mishima knew what she was doing by lurking in front of the penalty area to take the shot. No human goalkeeper, male or female, was going to stop that rocket. And Nana Mishima has won the SheBelieves Cup with a goal worth plenty of gold in itself.
Takumi Okada: She scored key goals for Manchester United this season. Now she has scored a very big goal to win an international cup final for Nadeshiko Japan against their great rivals. Nana Mishima is the latest of the line among high-profile Nadeshiko Japan heroines.
As the Japanese players started moving back across the halfway line, the cheers heard in the stands came mostly from the Florida-based Manchester United supporters. Those supporters showed Nana their appreciation by singing that adaptation of "Ooh-ah, Eric Cantona" which was heard every time Nana scored late winning goals for United.
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
OOH-AH, NANA MISHIMA!
Nana responded by saluting the singing supporters in the stands. Their support throughout the match was mostly appreciated by her and by the other Nadeshiko Japan players.
Takumi Okada: The restart will follow, but it will most likely be academic now.
As it was predicted, the referee blew the final whistle immediately after the American players kicked the ball off.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEP!
Takumi Okada: History is made for Nadeshiko Japan. After falling short in the 2012 and 2014 Algarve Cup finals against Germany, the SheBelieves Cup is now part of the trophy collection.
"We did it, Nana-chan!" Taeko hugged Nana.
"Yeah, we won it!" Nana replied.
"It's unbelievable! I'm so happy!" Mai exclaimed as she also hugged Nana.
After the initial post-match celebrations, players from both teams shook hands under the respectful applause acknowledging the quality of the 2 sides. Mai and Alyssa shook hands very briefly. The most sincere handshake was the one between Nana and Alex Morgan.
"Congratulations, Nana. Japan deserves this trophy tonight." Alex said.
"I could have said the same thing about USA. We fell behind twice, and could have lost the game in injury time." Nana replied.
"Your team never gave up. It's all credit to you for putting up the fight, for creating your luck, and for having the last word. On that last goal, no goalkeeper would have stopped that."
"Thanks, Alex. Best of luck in the next NWSL season with Orlando."
"Thank you, Nana. I hope you will win a lot of things with Manchester United come the month of May."
After the handshakes, the stage was set to give the Nadeshiko Japan players to receive their medals from officials and dignitaries. After the last medal was given to the Nadeshiko Japan captain, she was given the SheBelieves Cup before she hoisted it high amidst the cheers from the remaining spectators who supported Nadeshiko Japan on the night. After a team photo with the trophy well in sight and after a lap of honor in front of the remaining spectators, the players went into the tunnel leading to the dressing room.
In the dressing room, the party had already started with players shouting whoops and hurrahs. Nana received quite a welcome from her teammates and from the Nadeshiko Japan staff when she came in.
"Woo hoo hoo!! I'M SO HAPPY!" Nana shouted.
"Champions! We did it, Witch!" Mai said.
"Incredible tournament. You two kids did us very proud out there!" Taeko gave a friendly headlock to both Nana and Mai.
"Hope our next tournament will be even better!" Nana said.
Then the Nadeshiko Japan head coach entered the dressing room with the trophy, prompting everyone to go quiet before her speech.
"You did yourselves proud. The fans who supported us here, everyone who supports us at home... you made them proud today. This is a great moment, but this is only the beginning. It's one step towards your dream of winning the World Cup for Japan again. When we get there, we will fight for it." Asako said. "But for tonight, enjoy this moment because this cup... BELONGS TO US!"
"YEEEEEAAAH!!!" the whole dressing room cheered.
"CAMPEONES! CAMPEONES! OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ!" the Nadeshiko Japan players sang altogether and repeatedly the universal soccer song for champions.
A little later, Nana was handed the SheBelieves Cup.
"Can you take a few pictures on my phone? I promised someone that we'd go for the win, and I'm gonna show him that we did." Nana asked Mai.
"Sure. It's for Kakerucchi, right?" Mai replied before she took Nana's smartphone.
"Yeah, he's probably sleeping now because he has to train tomorrow morning. But when I will send him pictures, those will definitely make him smile in the morning in England." Nana said.
"He will definitely enjoy those. OK, smile now." Mai said.Nana posed for Mai, who then took a few pictures to immortalize the moment when Nana held the SheBelieves Cup as a champion for Nasehiko Japan.