In a rerun of the 2011 final, the USA faced a Japanese side looking to claim back to back titles in yesterday’s 2015 World Cup final. Japan, who had knocked out England in the semi finals to advance to yet another grudge match with the US, have not been as impressive in this tournament as they were in Germany but in a sign of a true champion have battled through each round, usually relying on a single goal for progression. The US on the other hand have grown stronger as the tournament progressed, firstly escaping from a difficult group before convincing wins against Colombia then China in the knock out rounds. But it wasnt until their semi final match with a rampant in form Germany that the US showed their real potential as contenders. The Germans had scored a remarkable nineteen goals in opening play from five matches with Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag in particularly impressive form.
But against a much tougher defence, Germany failed to find the space that was afforded to them in their previous matches. Unable to find the breakthrough at one end put more pressure on a nervous looking German defence that weakened as the match went on. Eventually the pressure became too much and the German’s conceded a silly penalty. Carli Lloyd converted that spot kick to hand the US the advantage in a defining moment in the game. The US added a second late in the game to secure their passage to the final and continue the US fine record at World Cups. In the seven Wormen’s World Cups that have been playing to date, the US has finished in the top three on every occasion, including three times as winners (1991,1999 and 2015) and once as runner-up (2011). Germany who are have won the tournament on two occasions (2003, 2007) have faltered in recent years and are in somewhat of a transition phase with half of their current squad under 25 years old. That inexperienced showed in their semi final match when they came up against an US side filled to the brim with seasoned internationals. In fact 10 of the US squad have over 100 caps whilst another 6 have more than 50 caps.
Since their defeat in 2011, the US has stuck with the same group of players making only a few additions along the way but importantly retaining a good mix of youthful exuberance with experienced professionals. Whilst captain Abby Wambach (249 caps) and defender Christie Rampone (308 Caps) may not feature as much in the starting eleven as in previous campaigns, their influence especially on the younger players in the team has been the making of this World Cup winning side. Gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was a huge turning point and gave the US the confidence that they need to believe that they could become world champions. With a squad that contained Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Rampone and Wambach it was hard to see anyone stopping them.
Meanwhile Japan took on England who had knocked hosts Canada out in the quarter finals. England, who had never reached this far in the World Cup before, played well in a tight match and looked on course to provide yet another upset by beating the Japanese. However a late own goal deep into added time at the end of the game by Laura Bassett knocked England out and put Japan into the final. It was the confidence booster that Japan needed having once again failed to live up to their billing as one of the tournament favourites. All that stood between them and another World Cup title was ninety minutes of football against the US. As the match kicked off on a sunny night in Vancouver in front of a sell out 53,341 fans, both sides looked evenly matched but it wouldn’t take long for one side to step up a dominate the game. It’s hard to argue that US captain Carli Lloyd should be the player of the tournament after some stunning shows in the previous rounds but she saved the best for last.
Two quick goals within five minutes gave the US the lead before Lauren Holiday made it three within 15 minutes. Lloyd would add a fourth a minute later to complete her hat trick with a stunning long distant lob from the half way line over the back peddling Kaihori in the Japanese goal. Japan however did not give up and snatched a goal back eleven minutes later to make it 4-1. After the restart, Japan added a second with Julie Johnston scoring an own goal to make it 4-2. Japan saw an opportunity to get back into the match and pressed forward to find the two goals needed to send the game into extra time. But it wasn’t to be as almost immediately the US raced up the pitch and scored their fifth goal thanks to Tobin Heath. With the game won, the US could afford to make two token substitutions, bringing on Wambach and Rampone for one final swansong. A fitting end to this historic win for the US women’s team.