The U.S. women’s national soccer team is the unquestioned favorite going into Sunday’s World Cup final.
But the showdown with Japan is anything but a coronation.
As destined as the Americans seem to take their first crown since that famous 1999 run, Japan is an impressive obstacle.
The Japanese are playing with purpose — they know they embody the hopes of their earthquake-ravaged homeland. The Americans’ big advantage is their strength and size, but Japan has beaten big, strong teams in Germany and Sweden.
Of course, neither of those squads had a striker like the 5-foot-11 Abby Wambach, who threatens to simply shrug off Japan’s back-line defenders.
Wambach has goals in each of the last three games — the last two of which were game winners.
The Americans will also return defender Rachel Buehler, who did not play in the semifinal win over France due to receiving a straight red card against Brazil.
She figures to return to the starting lineup, but it was the bench that gave the U.S. a spark against France. Forward Alex Morgan, 22, netted the third goal of the game coming in as a reserve. It was her first career World Cup goal.