Japan's iron ladies miss U.S. hat-trick

SENDAI, Japan (Reuters) - World Cup holders Japan were held 1-1 by the United States in a women's soccer friendly on Sunday, failing in their bid to beat the Olympic champions for the third time running.

Named after a frilly pink flower, Japan's 'Nadeshiko' bullied their way in front in quake-ravaged Sendai with a superb move in the 32nd minute.

Nahomi Kawasumi's clever lobbed pass released right-back Yukari Kinga, who smashed home the loose ball from close range after her initial cross had been blocked.

Alex Morgan equalized for the world's top-ranked side with a clinical finish after 72 minutes, punishing the Japanese for missing several chances to add to their lead.

The Americans are taking part in the three team Kirin Challenge Cup in Japan along with Brazil in a taste of

Their astonishing World Cup victory gave a traumatized nation a psychological boost after last year's deadly tsunami, which triggered a nuclear crisis north of Tokyo.

"More than anything we wanted to win for the people of Sendai, who have suffered so much," said Sasaki. "But we'll take great fighting spirit to the London Olympics."

Japan beat the U.S. 1-0 at the Algarve Cup last month, before losing to Germany in the final.

"It was a very important game for us," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said, mindful of how damaging another defeat by Japan could have been to team morale before the Olympics.

"We were doing way too much defending in the first half but we showed a little more composure in the second half."

(Reporting by Alastair Himmer in Tokyo; Editing by Alan Baldwin)