USA and Japan meet for Women’s World Cup in Frankfurt

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final
United States vs Japan
Sunday, July 17, 2011, 2:45 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
FIFA Women’s World Cup Stadium, Frankfurt, Germany
Odds to win Match in Regulation (courtesy of bodog): USA -230 / Japan +175 (does not include extra time or penalty kicks)
Total: under 2 1/2 -150 / over 2 1/2 +115
Three way line: Japan +280 / USA -120 / Draw +250 (regulation and stoppage time only, does not include extra time or penalty kicks)
Odds to win match: USA -200 / Japan +160 (includes regulation, stoppage time, extra time and/or penalty kicks)

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The United States is a heavy favorite to win their third World Cup against Japan Sunday afternoon in Frankfurt, Germany.

Though the United States is a heavy favorite to win their third Women’s World Cup, the rest of the world will be rooting for their opponents, Japan. This is because it is such a great story that Japan has even made it this far. The nation was rocked by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, and is still recovering. The team couldn’t practice at night due to power outages and they couldn’t even run full drills due to the playing fields being in such bad shape. They could only jog and run, and not practice soccer.

Once they got to the tournament, they struggled to beat an inferior New Zealand team 2-1 in their first game. Then Japan crushed Mexico 4-0 behind a hat trick from captain Homare Sawa. With two wins, Japan had already qualified for the quarterfinals but a 2-0 loss to England set up a difficult quarterfinal match-up with host Germany who was widely considered the tournament favorite. The heavily favored Germans couldn’t break the Japanese defense and Japan scored in extra time to steal the 1-0 win. That the high powered German attack couldn’t score a single goal in over 120 minutes of action is a testament to the technical defensive minded Nadeshiko as the team is affectionately known in Japan. Japan then played a very difficult Swedish team in the semifinals. Sweden beat the United States in the group stage 2-1.   Sweden jumped out to an early 1-0 lead against Japan but Japan got the equalizer before halftime. Japan scored two goals in the second half to win 3-1 and advance to their first ever World Cup Final.

The Unites States’ run to the final was difficult as well, but it was their own doing. A loss to Mexico during qualifying forced them to play a two leg playoff against a tough Italian team. The US survived that to qualify for the World Cup for the 6th time. In the group stage the United States breezed to wins over North Korea 2-0 and Colombia 3-0 to qualify for the quarterfinals. Then the United States lost to Sweden 2-1 to set up a tough quarterfinal matchup with Brazil. The US was a little unlucky against Sweden as Sweden scored their two goals on a penalty kick and a free kick. The United States had  many chances to score but kept missing wide open nets.

Everyone knows what happened against Brazil, as the US pulled out a miraculous come from behind victory in penalty kicks. Abby Wambach’s goal in stoppage time of extra time won best play at the ESPY awards this past Wednesday despite happening only a few days before the awards show. That victory set up a tough semifinal match-up with France. The United States scored at the ninth minute against France. France dominated possession for most of the game but couldn’t get the equalizer until about 60 minutes into the game in the second half. Only the brilliant play of American keeper Hope Solo kept the US in the game. Then a couple of tactical substitutions by American coach Pia Sundhage switched the momentum. Abby Wambach scored in the 78th minute to give the Americans a 2-1 lead. Substitute Alex Morgan scored 3 minutes later to seal the 3-1 victory for the Americans.

The United States has won the World Cup twice, but not since 1999. They are going for their third Cup in the six editions of the Women’s World Cup. The United States has advanced to at least the semifinals of every World Cup.

Japan has never beaten the United States in 25 total matches. The United States is 22-0-3, including 3 wins in the last year and the last nine in the series. However, Japan had also never beaten a European team before the upsets over Germany and Sweden.

Japan is a very talented team but young. Many experts thought Japan would be a global power in time for the 2012 Olympics, but they are a year ahead of schedule. Japan is coached by Norio Sasaki. The heart and soul of the team is striker Homare Sawa. The 32 year old is the leading scorer and the offense runs through her. Japan will rely on a short passing possession game which will lead to solid finishing. The Nadashiko (Japanese for beautiful flower) are gaining confidence with every game, and have nothing to lose as they weren’t expected to get this far anyway. That makes for a very dangerous team. Japanese goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago has only allowed 4 goals in the tournament.

The US has relied on the strong goalkeeping of the controversial Hope Solo. Solo is outspoken and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which has been known to get her in trouble. In the last World Cup, Solo was benched for the semifinals against Brazil in favor of veteran Brianna Scurry. The US team was blown away 4-0 and Solo said after the match that she would have made those saves. She was sent home before the third place game. That is ancient history though as Solo has definitely redeemed herself with her play in the tournament. Though she has given up 5 goals in the tournament, 2 of them were on penalty kicks. That includes one against Brazil where the referee said Solo had moved before the kick after she had made a save.

On offense Abby Wambach is the leading scorer. She has scored crucial goals in the last 3 games. The Americans are bigger, stronger, and faster than the Japanese, no more apparent than the tall Wambach who towers over the Japanese team like (forgive me, I have to do this) Godzilla. The Japanese have no answer for Wambach. Other key midfielders and forwards include  Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly, Alex Morgan and Amy Rodriguez . On defense the Americans will rely on Christie Rampone, Alex Krieger, and the returnign Rachel Buehler who missed the game against France after getting a controversial red card against Brazil.

The United States has struggled on defense giving up a lot of open space in the last three games. They are a better team than Japan but this Japan team is playing for something bigger than the World Cup. I think it will be a close hard fought game, and the United States will find a way to pull out a close game. UNITED STATES WINS 2-1.


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