They meet again: USWNT to face Japan in third straight major final
On Wednesday, we learned that Japan will be the U.S.’s opponent in the Women’s World Cup final for the second straight time when they meet on Sunday in Vancouver. The Japanese beat England 2–1 in Wednesday’s semifinal on one of the cruelest endings ever seen in a World Cup, when England’s Laura Bassett hit a 92nd-minute own goal.
Here are three quick thoughts on another USA-Japan final:
There’s plenty of history here
This will be the third straight time the U.S. has met Japan in a major tournament final. Japan won the 2011 World Cup final on penalties after a dramatic 2–2 tie, and the U.S. turned the tables in the 2012 Olympic gold-medal game with a 2–1 win.
But let’s be clear: The World Cup is a bigger tournament than the Olympics, so it’s not like these two teams are all square now. The U.S. players would say as much, so they will be plenty motivated for Sunday’s big game. When I spoke to Abby Wambach before the World Cup about her memories from 2011, she said she still felt shock that the U.S. didn’t win that game after leading on two occasions, including when it was just three minutes from a World Cup title. Now the Americans will have a chance to write a new history against a fabled foe.
The U.S. will be favored over Japan
The Americans are coming off their most impressive performance of the tournament in their 2–0 win over Germany and have been improving throughout this World Cup. For its part, Japan was slightly outplayed by England, which was a bit of a surprise. The Japanese lacked a cutting edge in the attacking third of the field, and they had trouble defending set pieces as well.
Still, Japan has played the most attractive possession soccer of any team in this tournament, and the U.S. will know from experience not to take this team lightly. As painful as it was to see Bassett score the decisive own goal, it was the result of some terrific attacking work by Nahomi Kawasumi, who served a dangerous ball into the middle in the first place. Japan is full of players like Kawasumi who know how to play together and create problems for defenses.
You only get so many cracks at history
It’s rare to see two teams meet in three consecutive major tournament finals, so let’s salute the U.S. and Japan for a remarkable accomplishment. But as the U.S.’s Carli Lloyd said on Tuesday, the goal for the U.S. wasn’t to get to the final. It’s to win it. How will U.S. coach Jill Ellis approach her lineup choices? It’s early to speculate, but based on how well the U.S. played against Germany, it seems unlikely that many (if any) changes will be made.
You can be certain, though, that the U.S. will not want to waste any chances in this game like the Americans did in the first half of that final four years ago. All eyes will be on Vancouver at 7 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX. We’ll cover every step of the way until kickoff here on SI.com.