So here we go again! Just as Kyoko Yano predicted it’s a Japan–U.S. Final for the second time in succession—or third if you include the Olympics. The two dominant teams in the women’s game over the past few years are gearing themselves up for what should be another titanic clash.
Nadeshiko Japan will go into the game as underdogs. They have yet to sparkle like they did four years ago, but have displayed great fighting spirit and resilience. In stark contrast to the men’s team, they have shown they can win even when they are not playing well as was the case in their opening encounter against Switzerland and the recent Semi-final with England. It’s no coincidence that they’ve won the last two matches with late goals. An extremely fit side, they seem to find extra reserves of energy in the closing stages and in Mana Iwabuchi they have undoubtedly the most effective impact sub in the tournament. The question is: should she be starting?
While Japan struggled to break England down, America looked very impressive in their 2–0 Semi-final win over Germany. They got a bit lucky when Celia Sasic put her penalty wide and then when they received a fortunate spot-kick themselves; however, they deserved the victory having restricted the number one ranked team in the world to just one shot on target. Defensively they have been outstanding. Australia’s Lisa De Vanna is the only player to have scored past Hope Solo so far and the American keeper can create history with another clean sheet in the final. At the other end of the pitch they are also dangerous, boasting a number of match-winners including Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.
On paper and based on the matches up until now, the U.S. would appear to be the stronger team, but in a final anything is possible, as was proved four years ago. Strong favorites to take home the crown, America dominated for long periods and led twice, but plucky Japan refused to lie down and took the game to penalties thanks to a late Homare Sawa equalizer. Ayumi Kaihori then saved three out of four penalties to hand Nadeshiko the trophy.
Kozue Ando—a starting member on that historic night in Frankfurt four years ago—will be flying out to Vancouver to cheer on her teammates. Going for a 50/50 with the Swiss goalkeeper she suffered an ankle fracture in the 27th minute of Japan’s opening game, prematurely putting an end to her tournament. Before the Semi-final she called the girls to wish them good luck and to say she would see them at the final. Throughout the competition the players have talked about wanting to win it for Ando. They would no doubt prefer to have her on the pitch fighting with them, but her presence in the dressing room on Sunday will give them a real boost. Can it inspire them to victory? Tune in Monday morning at 8 am (JST) to find out.
Battle for Third: England vs. Germany
The game nobody really wants to play. German pair Celia Sasic (6 goals) and Anja Mittag (5 goals) will be involved in a personal battle to see who finishes as top scorer, though for Sasic the Golden Boot won’t make up for missing the key penalty against the U.S. It will be interesting to see whether England’s Laura Bassett starts. She has received a lot of support since her own goal in the Semi-final, but it will take her a long time to get over it and she may not be in the right frame of mind to play. A bronze medal will be of little consolation for either side, but it does give England an opportunity to finally get one over Germany. They haven’t won any of the seven previous meetings between the two teams. You’ll have to be up early to see this one in Japan: kickoff begins at 5 am on Sunday.
Shortlist for Golden Ball Award Saori Ariyoshi (Japan), Aya Miyama (Japan), Julie Johnston (USA), Carli Lloyd (USA), Megan Rapinoe (USA), Lucy Bronze (England) and Celia Sasic (Germany)
Images: FIFA/Getty Images