Japan can expect a United States at “full throttle” and bent on revenge on Sunday as the Asian champions bid to defend their title in the Women’s World Cup final.
It will be the third showdown between the two sides in a major championship final.
Nicknamed ‘the Nadeshiko’ – a pink flower symbolising grace and beauty – Japan won the 2011 World Cup crown in dramatic fashion in Frankfurt, Germany.
The United States, World Cup winners in 1991 and 1999, twice relinquished a one-goal lead before succumbing in a penalty shootout.
But the Americans took the Olympic gold ahead of Japan in London in 2012.
Both squads include many of the same players who were on the pitch in the 2011 final, including all four goal scorers.
Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach scored for the United States, while Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama were on target for the Japanese.
‘everything is on the line’
Carli Lloyd was one of three US players to miss her penalty kick in 2011, but scored both goals in the Americans’ 2-1 win in the 2012 Olympic final.
“I want to bring everything I have to this game,” warned Lloyd, who has been in stunning form in Canada, scoring and setting up another goal in a 2-0 semi-final win over top-ranked Germany.
“For me in the final everything is on the line, my foot on the pedal full force. Our confidence is growing, it grew against China and Germany and now it’s no regrets, full throttle.
“We know what’s at stake and have to play our best. We’ll be able to weather the storm, we’ve fresh legs and are physically fit.”
The United States could also be considered the home favourite with the 53,000-plus crowd at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver largely behind the Americans.
“We feel like we’re playing in the US,” Lloyd said.
Japan have won all their games so far in Canada by a one-goal margin while the United States where held to a goalless draw by Sweden in their tough Group D.
The Americans, however, have been gaining momentum, with wins over China 1-0 and Germany 2-0, in their last two games while Japan beat England 2-1 thanks to an own goal by defender Laura Bassett in their semi-final.
Despite their familiarity, each team expects to see changes in the other.
“They are less of a surprise,” said American Megan Rapinoe. “Last time they came out of nowhere. We know them a little bit better and they know us, but they don’t play exactly the same way as in 2011.”
“It’s a great testament to both teams that we’ve made it to the the finals of three big tournaments,” said US defender Becky Sauerbrunn.
“We’re getting better and we’ll be peaking at the right time. We’ve a lot of things in our arsenal.
“Japan are very methodical and very technical. The American style is a little bit more individualism in our players.
“We’ve played them many times since 2011, but their game has changed as well.”
Japan defender Saki Kumagai said revenge will be a factor, but her fourth-ranked side will be need more to lift them past the world number two team.
“It’s a revenge (match) certainly for both sides because four years ago we had the final in Germany and for us two years ago we lost the final in the Olympics.
“We want to face the United States with a fresh feeling but it will be a revenge for sure,” she said.
“The most important thing is that we don’t concede a goal in the first half, that’s the key.”
Another key will be containing Wambach.
“Abby is very tall and powerful, we have to beware of her becoming a pivotal player,” Kumagai said. “We have to be very aggressive from the first touch and as a team.”
The Americans are bidding to become the first three-time champions, while Japan want to follow in the footsteps of Germany, who won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2007.
Kumagai believes Japan are up to the task.
“Compared to four years ago or even two years ago all our team members have grown.
“It will be a game where all of us will show how we have grown and developed our skills.”