It’s time to crown a champion.
The United States and Japan square off in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday night and it’s a game the USWNT has waited four years to play. The two teams squared off in the 2011 final as well with Japan coming up the winner on penalty kicks. Yes, the two teams also met in the 2012 Olympic final – with the U.S. coming away with, yet another, gold medal – but this is different. This is the World Cup and the USWNT wants that trophy back.
In other words, this one is going to be good. Here’s what you need to know about the match and who you can expect to lift that trophy after the final whistle:
Japan edged its way back into the World Cup Final after English defender Laura Bassett scored an own-goal with just seconds left in regulation. It, almost certainly, was not the way the team planned on making it back to the championship but it was still a victory and, most importantly, still a berth to the title game.
Japan came into the World Cup ranked No. 4 in the world and has been riding a hot streak with nine straight victories even before the tournament. The last time Japan lost was in March, falling to World No. 3 France.
But while Japan’s dominance was unquestionable coming into the Cup, the team has started to slip slightly. Aside from the own-goal victory in the semis, Japan needed a, still, questionable penalty to defeat Australia and even coach Norio Sasaki acknowledged his team would have to step up its game against the USWNT.
He told reporters, via a translator:
Only the god knows the outcome. And Japan needs to build up on our power. And that’s what I take away from this game.
Preview: United States
The United States boasted the field’s best defense throughout the entire World Cup and, now, goalie Hope Solo is on the brink of international history. The long-time USWNT net minder has not given up a goal since the opening match last month. That’s over 500 straight minutes of play.
She’s now recorded five World Cup shutouts this summer and even admitted to playing some on-field mind games, stalling against Germany’s Celia Sasic. Oh, and she also tied the Women’s World Cup record with 10 career shutouts. It’s all worked for Solo.
But while the defense has stood tall throughout the tournament, the U.S. offense has, finally started to find its footing on the foot of Carli Lloyd.
Lloyd, who has been named player of the match three times this World Cup, is one of just five U.S. players to compete in every minute of the tournament. She’s also on a goal-scoring roll. Lloyd has scored three goals in three straight games, including the penalty kick that gave the United States the lead against Germany in the 69th minute. The rest of the USWNT, over the last three games has scored, collectively, two goals.
Of course, the storyline heading into the World Cup final is redemption. It’s a rematch. A game that the United States, quite desperately, wants.
In 2011, the USWNT blew two different leads against Japan, including a goal just three minutes from what would have been the end of extra times. The United States missed its first three penalty kick attempts and, ultimately, fell to Japan in a game the team, still, feels it should have won in regulation. Still, Abby Wambach, says this rematch isn’t about revenge; it’s simply about a desire to win. She told CNN:
Heartbreak never goes away but now we have an opportunity, and it’s not about revenge or avenging that loss because this team is different. I feel an air of confidence (for the World Cup final).
Of course, these two teams are incredibly familiar with each other. Despite playing each other just once since the 2012 Olympics, Japan and the United States have competed more than 20 times and they even practiced together when the Americans competed in Japan for the 2012 Kirin Cup.
Prediction: United States
Sure, there’s some left-over Fourth of July patriotism here but, for the most part, this is an entirely unbiased, based-on-stats prediction.
The United States, looking for its first title since 1999, is the most experienced, most athletic team in the World Cup field and Hope Solo’s performance in net this tournament has been nothing short of phenomenal. Also, the United State’s second half performance against Germany in the semis earlier this week, was enough to show shades of a squad that can attack and, most importantly, take control of the entire field.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s Women Soccer Power Index, the United States is a 67 percent favorite to beat Japan. Meanwhile, Oddsshark has the USWNT at 2/7 favorites.
Read about this game in Spanish at our sister site, AhoraMismo.com: