Women's World Cup Final Preview - Japan v USA

Japan are looking to win the Women's World Cup on Sunday.
Japan are looking to win the Women's World Cup on Sunday.

After England exited the Women's World Cup in the cruellest circumstances imaginable, it falls to USA and Japan to contest the final.

Japan will likely attempt to dictate the terms of this encounter by retaining possession but USA showed their ability to change things around against Germany in the semi final.

Japan, reigning world champions, will seek to emulate Germany in winning the trophy back-to-back while USA will attempt to bridge a 16-year gap since they were crowned world champions for the second time in 1999.

Here is the low-down on the Women's World Cup Final 2015, set to take place in Vancouver at 00:00 BST on Monday morning.

History

Japan may be the reigning world champions but no team can match the record of the Americans since this tournament's inception in 1991.

USA have been dominant ever since they defeated Norway in China 24 years ago to land the maiden success.

In five tournaments since, USA have reached the semi-finals stage each time, winning outright for the second time in 1999 and losing on penalties to the Japanese four years ago in Germany.

On the three occasions USA have not contested the World Cup Final, they have finished third.

For the Japanese on the other hand, this is something of a golden generation. Before their surprise success four years ago, Japan had managed a paltry two wins in 15 Women's World Cup matches.

Their last-gasp survival instincts in Frankfurt stunned the Americans four years ago, and they may well have their minds set on revenge in Vancouver.

Path to the Final

Both teams made smooth progress from the group stage but is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that Jill Ellis's USA have been getting stronger throughout the competition.

They emerged from Group D with victories over Australia and Nigeria and a stalemate against Sweden.

Having conceded just once in their three round-robin clashes, USA have not conceded a single goal in dispatching Colombia, China and Germany since.

The 2-0 semi final win over the top-ranked Germans was the boldest statement of intent yet from Ellis' girls.

There was to be a remarkable symmetry between the semi final encounters, with both games featuring the exchange of penalty kicks during regulation time.

Germany's Celia Sasic uncharacteristically missed the target with an hour gone and just minutes later they were forced to pay the ultimate price when USA captain Carli Lloyd scored from the spot.

The meanest defence in the tournament was not about to give up any cheap leveller and substitute Kelley O'Hara booked USA's place in the final six minutes from time with a close-range volley.

Japan safely navigated Group C defeating Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador - like USA they scored just four goals in three games.

Norio Sasaki's team overcame the Netherlands and Australia to set up a last-four meeting with England.

Aya Miyama gave Japan the lead from the spot but England were quickly on terms courtesy of a spot-kick of their own from Fara Williams.

Mark Sampson's side looked the more likely to win the game during the second period before a cruel twist of fate saw Laura Bassett turn the ball into her own net seconds before the game moved into an additional 30 minutes play.

Familiar Faces

These two teams are no strangers to one another. Four years ago Japan stunned the more favoured Americans to win.

USA twice took the lead in Frankfurt but were pegged back when Aya Miyama equalized Alex Morgan's opening goal.

Abby Wambach put the Americans back in front just before the halfway point in extra-time, but there was to be another dramatic twist as player of the tournament, Homare Sawa cancelled that effort out with just over 120 seconds remaining.

USA catastrophically missed three of four penalties in the ensuing shootout and Japan secured an unheralded victory.

A year later and Lloyd scored a brace, including a stunning second half effort, as USA gained some measure of revenge by defeating the world champions at Wembley to take home a third straight Olympic Gold at the London 2012 Games.

That victory is not going to be enough to satisfy the Americans desire for revenge, only victory in Vancouver this weekend will achieve that ultimate goal.

Star Players

USA: Carli Lloyd - Age: 32 Club: Houston Dash

Lloyd has four goals to her name already in this tournament - taking her international tally to 66 in 201 appearances. More than just goals, she picked up Player of the Match awards in all three knockouts games to this point and has been unsurprisingly revealed in the nominations for the Golden Ball award that the tournament's top performer will receive.

Should USA prevail, it is hard to imagine Lloyd will be overlooked. She has taken the mantle from all-time leading goalscorer Abby Wambach in stylish fashion, with the 35-year-old preparing to exit the international stage after this, her fourth World Cup.

Having put USA ahead in the semi final, Lloyd skipped to the end line to set up O'Hara to seal the game. She is the consummate team player but also acutely aware that her team-mates look to the No.10 jersey for inspiration.

"I always try to identify those key moments and tell myself that that's when I have to stand up and be stronger than ever," she said following the semi-final win, clearly determined to live up to her star-billing.

Japan: Aya Miyama - Age: 30 Club: Okayama Yunogo Belle

Miyama is the Nadeshiko captain and leader in almost every sense.

Most of Japan's attacks will go through the technically-gifted and efficient ball-playing midfielder. As was in evidence against England in the semi final, Japan will attempt to dominate possession and no player on their team is better equipped to move the ball around in sharp, accurate fashion than Miyama.

Her meticulous run-up and ice cool dispatch from the spot against England served to highlight the composure and patience that symbolise her style of play.

Miyama has twice been voted Asian Footballer of the Year and her dead-ball expertise should ensure that USA's teak-tough rearguard is given a thorough test in the final.

According to Miyama, the experience this team have garnered as a collective unit can separate them from USA in Vancouver.

"We now have spent a lot of time together with the same group of players. It means we know each other's game even more," she said.

"I think this is a great advantage, especially when we are in the knockout stage, where we will have close games and a strong mentality is needed."

Verdict:

Japan will likely attempt to dictate the terms of this encounter by retaining possession but USA showed their ability to change things around against Germany in the semi final.

The US moved away from the physical game that has been their calling-card in these finals and instead began attacking with purpose and incision.

In Lloyd, they have the most potent weapon on display and a player proven on the big occasion. Added to that, goalkeeper Hope Solo has not been beaten for more than 500 minutes during the finals in Canada.

Japan's patience will be sorely tested against a robust US defence, with England showing in the last four that the world champions can become one dimensional.

Whatever becomes of the final, it is unlikely the game can generate a moment of sporting fate quite as cruel or defining as that which befell Bassett and England in Edmonton.

Leanne Daddia,

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