On the verge of their first World Cup title in 16 years (and third overall which would be the most for any country), the U.S. women’s national team couldn’t have asked for a more fitting scenario as they take on Japan at Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium on Sunday (7, Fox) in the 2015 World Cup Final in Canada. This is the third major tournament in a row (2011 World Cup, 2012 Olympics) that these intense rivals have met in the biggest match. While the Americans gained some sense of revenge for Japan’s 5-4 win in penalty kicks in the 2011 World Cup by beating them 2-1 the following summer in the 2012 Olympics Gold Medal match, a win on Sunday would be the perfect way to wrap up a thrilling month north of the border.
The U.S. is sure to have a very supportive crowd just as they did in Tuesday’s impressive 2-0 victory over No. 1 Germany in Montreal. The next night, Japan squeaked by England 2-1 in Edmonton thanks to an own goal in stoppage time. The English would have been an easier opponent for them but I am sure that the Americans wanted to see the Japanese on Sunday. By putting together their most complete performance in the six matches in Canada, the U.S. was able to dispatch what many thought was the best team in the world. It’ll take a similar effort to knock off Japan, a scrappy group that should never be underestimated.
After Tuesday’s game, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis said that “we will enjoy this tonight and then our focus will turn to our next opponent. I’m very proud of the players and they stepped up tonight. This team has embraced the accountability of defending in every line. We have gritty players at the back and sophisticated players at the back and our defensive record (five straight shutouts) is a credit to the team.”
At this point in time, midfielder and captain Carli Lloyd scoring a big goal is old news (ironically enough she scored both U.S. goals in that Olympic match vs. Japan) as she converted a penalty kick for the third game in a row in the 69th minute against Germany. Substitute Kelley O’Hara’s insurance goal in the 84th minute (her first ever for the U.S.) was about the last thing that we expected to see but that’s what makes sports so great. Soccer can be a very cruel game as evidenced by the brutal own goal by England and also German forward Celia Sasic missing a penalty kick in the 59th minute. These wild swings of emotion are what make this such a wonderful product, consumed by huge amounts of viewers all month-long. Sunday figures to be a special moment for women’s sports in general.