The US women's national soccer team will face an old foe on Sunday.
Team USA will play a rematch of sorts against Japan in the World Cup final in Vancouver.
US lost to Japan in the World Cup final in 2011, in a match that was decided on penalty kicks. Then, in 2012, the women from America beat Japan for gold in the Olympics.
Japan is a team often characterized by composure and a crisp passing style. Against England in the semifinal on Wednesday, both were only occasionally in evidence. The team had a slight advantage in ball possession but was outshot by England, 15-7.
"We didn’t play as well as I’d hoped, but when you qualify, it means you’ve achieved your objective," Japan head coach Norio Sasaki said after the semifinal, according to a FIFA translator.
In the second half, England outplayed Japan, but the score remained even at 1 until the final minute when UK defender Laura Bassett toed the ball into her team’s own net. The own goal sends Japan to the championship, and was a dramatic finish for England, whose rise has been one of the top stories of this tournament.
Team USA, seeking its first World Cup championship since 1999, found its stride in its last two outings against China and Germany. Coach Jill Ellis has proven herself unafraid to make changes when the strategy isn’t working. The midfield triumvirate of Morgan Brian, Lauren Holiday, and Carli Lloyd is anticipated to be part of the lineup for the title match. It is a formidable formation Coach Ellis assembled for the first time against Germany.
On Sunday night, the US will seek to keep a couple streaks alive. Ms. Lloyd has scored in the previous three straight games. Hope Solo and the defense seek to continue an incredible 513 straight minutes of shutout play.
The two teams took very different paths to arrive at the championship. Japan had easier match-ups in the group phase, but struggled against underdogs like Australia and Cameroon. A short passing game, the team's hallmark, has been inconsistent.
The US emerged victorious from the so-called “Group of Death” but the players only found a rhythm in the knockout phase.
Germany’s head coach Silvia Neid noted a confidence in Team USA. She told reporters that the US is "so very convinced about themselves."
But the US women emphasized focusing on the championship game after the win over the world's top ranked team, Germany. “We still have one game left. We’re pretty aware of that, especially how things went down the last time around,” Abby Wambach told reporters after the semifinal, referring to the loss to Japan in the last World Cup.
The defending champions will face the tournament favorite, USA, at 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.