By Paul Lomax and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — Hundreds of soccer fans packed Times Square Sunday to watch Team USA face off against Japan in an emotional Women's World Cup final that resounded beyond the field.
The match in Frankfurt, Germany, ended in a stunning defeat for the top-ranked Americans, who lost on penalty kicks in overtime, dashing the hopes of those watching at the Crossroads of the World.
"I feel bad for our team, but Japan played a much better game," said Anita van Munster, 20, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "It was fantastic to watch it right here in Times Square!"
More than a thousand people, young and old waved American flags and blew vuvuzelas to cheer on their team as they watched the game on a giant screen.
The disappointing match capped a remarkable run for the Team USA, which powered past Brazil and France to reach the finals and was hoping to bring home its third World Cup victory since 1991.
But it also marked an uplifting moment for Japan, which has been reeling with the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami that left more than 15,000 dead, 7,000 missing and wreaked havoc on the nation's infrastructure and cities.
It also spawned the Fukushima nuclear disaster that sent reactors into meltdown and left the ravaged nation scrambling to avert a catastrophic release of radiation.
The powerhouse American team, led by Abby Wambach, took the lead in the 69th minute with a goal from Alex Morgan, the team's youngest player at 22.
But Japan, which has never beaten the U.S. in 25 matchups over the years, tied up the score in the 88th minute, sending the game into overtime.
Then Wambach, originally from upstate New York, knocked in a header to put the U.S. up 2-1 in the 104th minute.
But Japan came back, tying the score 2-2 in overtime. That sent the game into the penalty kick phase where Japan won 3-1.
"Congratulations to Japan!" said Michael Neel, 22, a New Yorker, who was watching the game in Times Square.
"But I think that if the U.S. had finished off all the chances they had in the first half it would have been a different result."
Karim Simmons, 43, of The Bronx, agreed that the U.S. had squandered its opportunities.
"What a great game," he said. "We wasted too many chances earlier in the game, but the better team won at the end of the day.
But the silver lining for him was that Japan was able to enjoy this success after so much hardship.
"I have to say that Japan played with all their heart and soul and after what that country has gone through, I don't feel that bad that the USA lost," he added.