It’s the final we all wanted.
The United States and Japan will face off for the World Cup title on Sunday in a rematch of the 2011 final that saw Japan win on penalty kicks. The Americans were the favorites to win the tournament, Japan an unknown underdog, and since that game the U.S. hasn’t been shy about its desire for redemption.
[Eric Adelson: Coach Jill Ellis deserves credit for U.S. success, but how much?]
In the promos leading up to the World Cup, the catchphrase was a “score to settle.” The spots featured Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan looking back at their careers and the one thing that’s missing.
It’s been 16 years since the Americans hoisted the World Cup trophy in one of the greatest moments in women’s soccer history. That championship essentially started the country’s love affair with women’s soccer and those loyal fans have been patiently waiting for the next moment that will reaffirm the USA's place as the world women’s soccer power.
[Yahoo Sports Radio: Carli Lloyd's thoughts on growing support for women's soccer]
That moment should have come four years ago. The United States had two leads against Japan — once in regulation and once in overtime — and lost both. Japan won the match 3-1 in penalty kicks.
"These are two talented teams with a lot of history and rivalry, and I think it will be a classic matchup,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “Both teams have a lot of the same players from 2011, but that said, this is a different team on a different journey, and I know all 23 players and our staff are tremendously excited for this next challenge."
It’s almost like this rematch was preordained.
After the U.S. defeated Germany to advance to the final, Japan was the recipient of a fortuitous own goal by England’s Laura Bassett in the 92nd minute of Wednesday’s semifinal. The unfortunate deflection broke a 1-1 tie and sent the defending champions through despite the fact the English had outplayed the Japanese throughout the game.
These two teams come into this game in two seemingly different places.
The U.S. has found its groove and showcased that against Germany. The Americans were fast, organized and precise. The ball moved effortlessly, scoring chances were abundant and, most of all, the team looked like it was having fun. It was a much different side than the one that had slugged it out for the five previous games of the tournament. Conversely, Japan looked challenged in the semifinal as England played aggressor. Japan had its chances, but England knocked the Japanese off their rhythm. For the first time all tournament, Japan looked unorganized and even a bit panicked.
Call it fate, destiny or just pure dumb luck, but this was the way Sunday's World Cup final had to go down. It had to be the United States and Japan. For the U.S. to regain its spot as the world’s most formidable female soccer power, it had to face the team that knocked it from that perch in the first place.
This is the final the Americans wanted. This is the score they needed to settle. History is there for the taking as a nation is desperately waiting to resurrect that feeling of pride and dominance that surged through the country 16 years ago.