After losing a heartbreaker to Japan four years ago in Germany, the U.S. side looks to avenge their penalty shootout defeat and reclaim the #1 world ranking in today’s World Cup Final.
The United States and Japan share a history of competition. World War II, Toyota vs Chevy, sushi vs burgers, and now women’s soccer, as the two nations meet for a third consecutive finale at a major tournament.
The Japanese team, known as the Nadeshiko, took the fútbol world by storm at the 2011 World Cup. By finishing third in the 2010 Women’s Asia Cup, they barely snuck into the competition. Having never previously placed in a World Cup, they played as afterthoughts. A second-place finish in the group stage netted the Nadeshiko a quarterfinal showdown with Germany, a test they passed with a 108th minute stunner in front of a shocked German crowd. Two matches later, they became world champions, at the expense of a U.S. team looking for its third title.
A year later, the Japanese and Americans met again at the London Olympics. The U.S. side, on the back of two Carli Lloyd goals, triumphed 2-1 to earn the gold medal.
So, while the upcoming finale appears as a revenge game, it can also be viewed as a tiebreaker, as the World Cup and Olympics carry an equal match-factor of four by the World Rankings Calculator. The real question now becomes, who will come out on top this time around.
On paper, the two sides have comparable tournament resumes. Both enter the finals undefeated, though the United States holds the lone draw from a scoreless finish with Sweden during group play. Both teams boast nine goals, though the Japanese allowed three to America’s one.
Both teams needed a bit of luck to survive their semifinal encounters. The U.S. advanced by benefit of a missed penalty shot and being awarded a controversial one of their own. Japan’s showdown with England seemed destined for extra time until British defender Laura Bassett inadvertently found the back of her own net with a clearance attempt in stoppage time.
Despite the similarities, the Americans enter the match an overwhelming 67% favorite, according to FiveThirtyEight’s WSPI. It appears that the computer prefers America’s prolific defense, which hasn’t allowed a goal in 513 minutes, over Japan’s technical prowess. The Nadeshiko complete 80% of their passes, six percent more than their counterparts, displaying an incredible ability to dictate play and suffocate the life out of opponents.
Several key factors tip the scale in favor of the Americans. The U.S. fields an elite goaltender in Hope Solo while all three Japanese keepers saw action, as starter Ayumi Kaihori experienced some shaky moments early in the tournament. The Americans can also expect a majority of the 50,000+ folks in attendance to support the U.S. side, seeing as Vancouver sits literally just north of the American border.
Regardless, we can anticipate an electrifying, hard-fought battle this Sunday. After all, the WSPI gave Germany a 57% chance to beat the U.S. in the semi-finals, proving that when game day arrives, anything can happen.