For the United States women’s soccer team, Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final presents not only a chance to become the first ever three-time winners of the competition, but to avenge its agonizing loss at the same stage four years ago. Japan, the surprise victors on that occasion, is now back in the showpiece game of women’s soccer with a chance to become just the second team to repeat as World Cup winners and to join the U.S. and Germany as two-time champions. The stakes could hardly be higher.
The Americans had been favored going into the last final in Germany, and led going into the closing minutes both in regulation time and extra time, only to be denied by an inspired Japan team. It meant more heartbreak for the U.S., which has failed to win the World Cup since tasting victory at the Rose Bowl in 1999, despite winning three Olympic gold medals in the intervening time. In London three years ago, it was Japan that was the victims in the final, but for the U.S. it is now the elusive World Cup title that it craves.
That is especially true for veteran striker Abby Wambach. The 35-year-old has played in every World Cup since that 1999 triumph but failed to land the ultimate prize. While she has lost her place as a starter in coach Jill Ellis’ lineup in the last two rounds, Wambach, who is playing in her last World Cup, has left no doubt about where her priorities lie heading into Sunday’s finale at Vancouver’s BC Place.
“All I care about is winning this World Cup,” Wambach she said, reports ESPN. “And, of course, it being my last World Cup chance, we're one game away. It excites me. And it's really nerve-racking. It's brutal. I'm not going to say this because it's brutal to sit on the bench because I'm not playing; it's brutal to sit on the bench because I really feel like it's taking years off my life. I now understand what my parents have been going through. I get what our friends and family talk about, how stressful it is, because you don't have control of the outcome of what's going on unless you're on the pitch.”
Wambach watched from the bench for the majority of the 90 minutes last Tuesday as the U.S. produced by far its best performance of the competition so far to beat the world’s best-ranked team Germany 2-0 in the semifinals. It was a match that also extended the USA’s streak without conceding a goal to 513 minutes.
In contrast Japan, which has won each one of its games in this World Cup, had a real struggle in its semifinal. Successful penalty conversions were exchanged in the first half against an underdog England side giving Japan all it could handle before English defender Laura Bassett turned the ball into her own net deep into injury time.
While Japan, with its technical proficiency and supreme ability to keep hold of the ball with a short-passing game, has looked in control through much of the competition, the semifinal provided a major scare. But coach Norio Sasaki has suggested that his team will be able to play with greater freedom having got back to the final.
“I think they desired too much to go to the final and that might have affected the mentality in some players,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “But now we are going to the final, and I don't think that kind of pressure is there anymore because they're in the final.”
Kickoff time: 7 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox, Telemundo