USA vs. Japan: Predicting the Starting Lineups for Women's Olympic Soccer Final
After an epic extra-time win over Canada and a frantic, nail-biting finish against France, the USA and Japan are set to contest the London 2012 women's soccer final in a rematch of last year's Women's World Cup.
Here, by position, are the expected lineups for both teams as they go for the gold on August 9.
USA: Hope Solo
Japan: Miho Fukumoto
With these two teams' records, there are unlikely to be many surprises in the lineups, but certainly least of all in goal.
Hope Solo and Miho Fukumoto are two of the outstanding goalkeepers in women's soccer.
Both Japan and USA have kept three clean sheets in the Olympic tournament. Coincidentally, each team conceded goals only to Canada and France—Japan in the group stage against Canada and semifinal against France, USA the other way around.
USA: Amy LePeilbet / Christie Rampone
Japan: Yukari Kinga
The only question at right-back is whether USWNT coach Pia Sundhagen throws caution to the wind from the start and fields a three-woman defence.
Desperately needing a goal to stay in the tournament, Sundhagen withdrew LePeilbet for forward Sydney LeRoux late against Canada, shifting Rampone over to cover the wing in a daring 3-4-3 formation.
It's a potential option against Japan to try to break down their staunch defence early; but more likely, particularly given the physical toll of USA's semifinal, Sundhagen will stick to a 4-4-2 with LePeilbet on the right.
USA: Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler
Japan: Saki Kumagai and Azusa Iwashimizu
Two solid partnerships in the heart of the back line have contributed to both teams' tight defences.
At 37, it might be expected that Rampone in particular will feel the effects of all 120 minutes of action against Canada, but it is unthinkable the USWNT captain could be replaced.
USA: Kelley O'Hara
Japan: Aya Sameshima
Expect no changes at left-back for either side.
While O'Hara at times looked vulnerable against Canada, her forward mobility on the wing may be an asset in breaking down Japan.
USA: Megan Rapinoe
Japan: Aya Miyama
Both Japan and the US have exceptional right-sided midfielders.
Rapinoe gave a career-defining performance against Canada, bringing her tally in the tournament to three goals and two assists. Another epic performance in the final could pave the way for U.S. gold.
USA: Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney
Japan: Homare Sawa and Mizuho Sakaguchi
The partnership in the middle of the park is particularly important to Japan. Expect Sakaguchi to play the holding role allowing FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Homare Sawa to orchestrate attacks and get forward herself.
USA: Heather O'Reilly
Japan: Nahomi Kawasumi
Pia Sundhagen has tended to favour Tobin Heath on the left side of midfield, but Heather O'Reilly has a case to get the start against Japan.
Heath struggled against Canada, and O'Reilly's introduction in extra time energized the flagging team and reminded what a handful she can be for the opposition.
USA: Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan
Japan: Shinobu Ohno and Yuki Ogimi
Where Japan tends to rely on creativity and goals coming from midfield, USA has the most prolific and dangerous forward line in the tournament.
Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan have eight goals and four assists between them—more than most whole teams managed at London 2012.
No question who will be leading the line for the USWNT at the Olympic soccer final.