Women's World Cup delivers a litany of unforgettable moments

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The curtain came down on the Women's World Cup on Sunday, Japan clutching the trophy for the first time as the U.S. players graciously applauded. Japan's 3-1 win on penalties (after the game ended 2-2 in extra time) was a fitting ending to an absorbing, highly competitive three weeks of action played in tremendous spirit. Here's a look back at some of the standout moments:

Canada's Christine Sinclair's goal against Germany

The tournament's official opening match didn't start brilliantly for Canada, which found itself 2-0 down inside the first half. By the time Sinclair took an 82nd-minute free-kick just outside the penalty area, she'd had her nose broken by Babett Peter's elbow but refused to be subbed off, batting off the protestations of team doctors. It didn't seem to hinder her as she curled the ball perfectly over the wall and into the top corner -- the first World Cup goal conceded by Germany in almost 700 minutes of play since 2003.

France announces itself

The French hadn't suggested a new world order when they beat Nigeria 1-0 on the first day. But a four-goal performance against Canada sounded the claxon loud and clear. France's intoxicating blend of elegance, telepathic linkup play and coldblooded deadliness in front of goal left the Canadians' heads spinning. Gaetane Thiney's second goal -- a touch, and then thwump! the blow -- was especially memorable.

Sawa's hat trick sinks Mexico

As well as lifting the World Cup on Sunday, Japanese captain Homare Sawa was named the tournament's best player, and awarded the Golden Boot having scored five goals. She was at the heart of Japan's game from box to box, and a hat trick against Mexico in Group B made sure everyone took notice -- of her and her team. One towering back-post header, a neatly flicked front-post header, and a sweeping right-foot finish to cap it all off.

A refereeing howler

Hungarian referee Gyoengyi Gaal ensured that Equatorial Guinea's World Cup debut won't be forgotten in a hurry when she took the Group stage's lax officiating to a spectacular nadir. When Leena Khamis' attempt bounced off the post and past her flailing goalkeeper, Guinea defender Bruna reacted by catching the ball herself. The Australians screaming "handball" probably didn't appreciate it at the time, but the way she casually dropped it again moments later, having realized her mistake before Gaal did, was quite magnificent -- all that was missing was a tuneless whistle. The incident just pipped the North Korean "struck by lightning" story to Weirdest Moment.

Just like watching Brazil

Four years ago their display against the U.S. mesmerized; this time around the faking and whining of Brazil drew scorn. We should keep in mind how little support the team receives at home, how scant its preparation is, and marvel at the magic its players can nonetheless produce. Rosana's goal against Norway, brilliantly laid on by Marta (without shoving any defenders to the floor in the process, this time) is my favorite.

Kyah Simon at the double

There were some terrific performances from the event's youngest participants, with 16-year-old Caitlin Foord deservedly taking the Hyundai Best Young Player award for her marauding runs down Australia's right flank. But it was her 20-year-old teammate Kyah Simon's brace against Norway -- the first a cool-as-you-like side-footed shot with defenders scrambling around -- that really captured the Matildas' tournament, propelling them to the knockout stages at the Europeans' expense.

England penalties debacle

The sound of Faye White's penalty strike crashing in to the crossbar signaled the end of England's challenge (literally, for many of us; we can't bear to actually watch these things). As if that wasn't bad enough, things rapidly went sour in the camp when England coach Hope Powell was reported to have accused key players of cowardice for failing to volunteer to take penalty kicks. It had all looked like being so different after Ellen White's fantastic lob against Japan, too.

Germany crash out at quarterfinal stage

Karina Maruyama's goal was like something out of Inception. Not only did the angle from which she beat Nadine Angerer hint at some kind of time/space glitch, everything about it made reality seem a bit less certain. This was the 108th minute, which meant the Germans -- who hadn't had to win a World Cup match from behind since the opening day of the 2003 event -- didn't have long to find a reply. They looked as flabbergasted as the rest of us by Japan's sudden attack. It meant that the holders wouldn't even get to contest the semifinals. And it meant that striker Birgit Prinz's angry reaction to getting the hook after 53 minutes against Nigeria was the last we'd see of one of the biggest names in the game.

The 122nd minute

This is like trying to pen a few words on the Miracle on Ice; it's already been eulogized every which way and it's only been a week. The U.S. scored some terrific goals in Germany this summer -- Alex Morgan's delicate chip versus France, Heather O'Reilly's piledriver versus Colombia -- but for jaw-on-the-floor, heart-pounding thrill, none can topAbby Wambach's header deep into stoppage time at the end of extra time in the quarterfinal against Brazil. The referee must have been lifting the whistle to her lips as Megan Rapinoe pulled her left foot back; Erika's stretcher shenanigans earlier in extra time ironically bought just enough time to send it straight on to Wambach's head.

Iwashimizu slides in

A week later the boot was on the other foot -- Sawa's boot, in fact, as she flicked in Japan's equalizer with only a couple of minutes of extra time remaining. There was time enough, though, for the U.S. to look for the winner, with Morgan running at goal in the 121st minute. Knowing what the Western New York Flash striker had done from a similar position to open the scoring in the 69th minute, Azusa Iwashimizu slid in to dispossess her but ended up making better contact with Morgan's legs than the ball. She was sent off but, cannily, she'd made sure she was outside of the box at the time, ensuring that there wouldn't be any penalties until the teams had five each. Carli Lloyd's free-kick was blocked in the box and the rest, as they say, is history.

Social media phenomenon

To say the Women's World Cup was a huge hit on social media is an understatement. Goalkeeper Hope Solo's Twitter following jumped from around 10,000 just before the tournament to over 100,000 prior to the final, with others on the U.S. team making similar strides. The final itself set a record for tweets per second, eclipsing the wedding of Prince William and Kate and the death of Osama bin Laden, and drawing an astounding 7,196 tweets per second.

Georgina Turner is a freelance sports writer and co-editor of http://www.retrombm.com/.