Japan became just the fourth nation to become FIFA Women’s World Cup champion as they beat the United States in a penalty shoot-out after a dramatic 2-2 draw to claim the 2011 crown.

Saki Kumagi converted the title-winning spot kick in giving 10-player Japan a 3-1 shoot-out win over the two-time world champ Americans, who failed to hold a lead in regular time and in extra time.

Alex Morgan gave the U.S. the lead after 69 minutes but watched as Aya Miyama equalized in the 81st minute. Abby Wambach seemed to have given the Americans the victory with her goal after 104 minutes. But Japanese captain Homare Sawa forced penalties with a second equalizer three minutes from the end of extra time.

In the spot-kicks, Shannon Boxx watched Japanese keeper Ayumi Kaihori save the first penalty. Miyama converted followed by a miss over the bar by Carli Lloyd and U.S. keeper Hope Solo fended off Yuki Nagasato’s attempt before Kaihori saved Tobin Heath’s penalty – as the Americans missed their first three penalties. Mizuho Sakaguchi and Wambach both delivered good, setting up Kumagai’s World Cup winner.

Japan joins 1991 and 1999 champions U.S., 1995 winners Norway and 2003 and 2007 title holders Germany as the only nations to hoist the World Cup trophy.

“The Americans had some great attacking play but our defensive line was very well organized. The players were patient, they wanted to win this game and I think it’s because of that the Americans scored only two goals. Yes we had luck in the penalty shootout and I definitely got some help from my football god,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.

“Considering the current situation in Japan I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support, and in particular for the support we received from Germany. Germany is a grand football country and we received a lot of support here in Germany.”

Japan had not beaten a European team coming into the tournament but beat Germany and Sweden before beating the United States for the first time in 26 match-ups – 22 losses and three draws before Sunday night.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage was gracious in defeat.

“It will be a final to remember and credit to both teams. I am very happy with how we played in the first half. We changed our style compared to the semi-final. I’m disappointed, and yes we won silver. Hopefully I can feel that in a few weeks,” said the U.S. coach.

“Playing in the final at the highest level, you have to take your chances, and we weren’t sharp enough with the two goals conceded and that is why we didn’t win the game. There is something to be said about the way Japan plays. They are comfortable with the ball even when they are behind and that kind of thing is good for women’s football.”

The U.S. dominated the early going with one chance after the next but could not score. Megan Rapinoe struck the near left post after eight minutes and then after two more top-notch scoring opportunities, Wambach blasted her shot off the lower half of the crossbar after 29 minutes.

The Americans remained the side in control and struck the right post four minutes after the break as Morgan’s attempt went off the upright.

The California native Morgan broke the deadlock in the 69th minute, running onto a high long ball from Rapinoe, hold off a defender and then beating Kaihori to the far right post.

Japan evened the game with nine minutes to play as Rachel Buehler’s clearance attempt went off Alex Krieger and into the path of Miyama, who beat Solo to force extra time.

The U.S. once again took the lead one minute before the end of the first half of extra time with Wambach heading home Morgan’s cross for her fourth goal of the tournament.

But Japan proved resilient and equalized with three minutes left, Sawa diverting Miyama’s corner past Solo at the near left post for her tournament best fifth goal.

Azusa Iwashimizu was shown a red card in the first minute of stoppage time in extra time before the drama of the spot-kicks.

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