In 2011, everyone in the world thought the United States was going to win the World Cup. Coming off some late game heroics against Brazil, who many considered their biggest competition, the USWNT rode the confident goal scoring of Abby Wambach into the final against underdog Japan. What happened in that final shocked the world. The Japanese and Americans traded blows all game, finishing 2-2 after extra time, with Japan securing their first ever World Cup title on penalties.
Fast forward to 2015, and the United States once again takes on Japan in the World Cup final, under very different circumstances. The USWNT is coming off a hard fought 2-0 win over world number one Germany, while the Japanese needed some late game luck, as they defeated England 2-1 on an own goal late in the game. Needless to say, the United States are once again the favorites, and will look to avenge their loss in 2011, securing captain Abby Wambach the missing piece to her nearly complete trophy case of international soccer.
Player to Watch for USA: Carli Lloyd
Carli Lloyd has been the engine for the United States all tournament long, and in the final, it’s her time to step up and achieve her place at the pinnacle of the women’s game. Against Germany, Lloyd scored a penalty kick for the United States that ultimately won the game, while setting up the second goal to seal the victory. She is the frontrunner to win the Golden Ball for the top player in the tournament should the United States beat Japan and has truly emerged as the star of this USWNT, all while keeping a low profile behind stars like Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Hope Solo. With over 200 appearances and 60 international goals under her belt, it’s time for world soccer to start appreciating the brilliance of Carli Lloyd.
Player to Watch for Japan: Aya Miyama
The Japanese team has become world renowned for their technicality on the ball, and no one exemplifies that better than Aya Miyama. Miyama has captained the Japanese team since their silver medal run in the 2012 London Olympics, and has scored two goals this World Cup, making her the highest scorer on Japan. She is a free kick specialist, renowned for incredible dead ball goals, and played an important scoring role in the semifinal against England and the 2015 World Cup final. If Japan wants to retain their world champion status, Miyama will have to put on another brilliant performance as the creative genius behind a tactically sound Japanese team.
Prediction: USA wins 2-0
While Japan surprised the United States in 2011, this year will be decidedly different, and the Americans will be ready. After a convincing victory over Germany, it seems the USWNT has come into its own as a team, realizing their immense talent and depth to control games and dictate the pace of play. Japan on the other hand, looked nervy against England and will likely struggle with the physicality of the American team. Many fans believed the matchup between the USA and Germany would be the true final, and I think the early stages of the matchup with Japan will show that Germany remains the higher quality team. Japan has had a nice run in the tournament thus far, but I don’t see them competing with the United States at this high level. I fully expect the United States to lift the World Cup trophy on Sunday evening, giving Abby Wambach her long sought after World Cup victory and Carli Lloyd the world’s attention as the Golden Ball winner.