Following a record-breaking 4–0 start by the U.S. side, Nadeshiko Japan were unable to make up the difference and go down 5–2.

The Japanese women’s team went into the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final looking for a repeat victory over USNWT—they finished the 2011 match off with a dramatic penalty shootout that won them the trophy—but that hope quickly seemed to vanish in the face of a lightning-quick start by midfielder Carli Lloyd and crew. Within the first 16 minutes after the starting whistle, the U.S. had jumped ahead by four goals, including a hat trick by Lloyd.

The New Jersey native scored her first goal from a corner kick just after the two-and-a-half minute mark and about two minutes later capitalized on a defensive mixup, scoring her second. She completed the feat—the first hat trick in FIFA Women’s World Cup history, and only the second in any World Cup—with a stunning goal from just inside the halfway line after the 15-minute mark. Between Lloyd’s first two goals and her third on the evening, teammate Lauren Holiday put in a volley off a poorly played defensive header from Azusa Iwashimizu.

Down 4–0 is never a position that a team wants to be in, but Nadeshiko Japan kept its cool, and applied pressure to the American side, which by this early point in the match was already looking to slow the pace. At 28 minutes in, striker Yuki Ogimi scored after a missed tackle by defender Julie Johnston, putting an end to U.S. keeper Hope Solo’s 540-minute scoreless streak for the tourney. A strategic sub by coach Norio Sasaki at the 33rd minute—Homare Sawa for Azusa Iwashimizu—was certainly a rallying move, but Sawa’s presence wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit. Japan continued to play tidy, intricate football to the end, and managed to go close on several occasions; however, the only other goal tallied for Japan was by a U.S. player, with Johnston heading the ball into her own net. USNWT Midfielder Tobin Heath put in a ball at the 54th minute to make it a 5–2 affair.

Although USNWT seemed to struggle to find its groove in the early part of the tournament, they began to pick up their play after moving out of the group stage, putting on a particularly solid performance against Germany, downing a dominant team 2–0. Their explosive start seemed to be just what they needed to put Nadeshiko Japan, which has managed to tough out several matches throughout this World Cup, well on their heels.

The resounding victory goes to the U.S. women, and a Golden Ball for the record-setting Lloyd, but full recognition to the Japanese side is due, and particularly to the team’s heart. Homare Sawa’s play, throughout her career and for a record six World Cups, has been responsible for not only a boom, but perhaps consistent growth and interest for years to come, for women’s soccer in Japan.

—Alec Jordan