The U.S. women’s national soccer team is one game from glory.
The Americans, riding high after shocking Brazil and holding off France in the knockout rounds, need only beat Japan to claim their first Women’s World Cup since 1999.
But it won’t be easy. Japan has knocked off host Germany, the defending champion, and Sweden, the team that topped the U.S. in Group C play.
What are the five keys to Sunday’s match?
1. Abby Wambach: At 5-foot-11, Wambach is a giant in the women’s game. She can outleap and outpower any of Japan’s defenders. Provided good service, she’ll score at least once Sunday — probably with her famous head.
2. Megan Rapinoe:Rapinoe turned the semifinal against France around when she came in off the bench. Since she’ll be fresh, we’d try to get at least a full half out of her against Japan. She’s perfect to serve to Wambach.
3. The middle of the field: The U.S. midfield is going to need to improve on its performance against France. Japan is just as quick and possession-oriented, so putting pressure on the ball and stringing passes will be key.
4. Hope Solo: Japan never stopped coming at Sweden’s keeper during their 3-1 semifinal victory. Solo is much better than Hedvig Lindahl, but extreme pressure can throw any stopper off her game.
5. Homare Sawa: Japan’s Sawa doesn’t have the skills of a Marta or a Louisa Necib, but she still needs to be the focus of the U.S. defense. If Sawa stumbles, so will Japan.