The starting line-up of team U.S.A. (back L-R) Alex Krieger, Lauren Cheney, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Heather O'Reilly, Amy Rodriguez (front L-R) Amy Le Peilbet, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd
07/17/2011 AT 08:00 PM EDT
Inspired by a country healing from the devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster
, the Japanese women’s soccer team defeated the U.S.
for the World Cup title Sunday, winning on penalty kicks after the two teams finished tied after regulation and overtime. It was Japan’s first ever win versus the U.S. in World Cup play.
“It was heartbreaking and Japan played well and never gave up. We had chances throughout the game and didn’t put them away,” Abby Wambach, 31, told ESPN. “It wasn’t meant to be. We worked so hard.”
Japan was paced by goalie Ayumi Kaihori and legend Homare Sawa, who tied the game late in overtime. The U.S. went ahead twice – 1-0 and 2-1, on goals by Alex Morgan and Wambach – only to see Japan tie them twice in 81st minute of regulation and later in overtime, when Sawa converted a corner kick opportunity at the 117th minute.
Japan's second goal seemed to drain the energy from the U.S. team, which faltered badly in the penalty kick phase.
"We did pretty good out there and played some good soccer"” U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage told ESPN, congratulating Japan. "I give credit to players playing good soccer."
Explaining the U.S. missing three penalty kicks, she replied, "You don't explain it – sometimes you make it and sometimes you don’t. We had our chances in the first half."
Wambach says the U.S. will now aim for the 2012 Olympics.
"Hopefully we qualify and get to London," she says. "I'm proud we never gave up and their country is very proud of them. Japan kept coming and didn’t give up and in the end they are the champs."