In what has become one of the best rivalries in women's soccer, the United States will take on Japan in the first match of the 2014 Algarve Cup.
These two teams competed in the finals of the 2011 World Cup, with Japan coming away with a victory in penalty kicks. One year later, the United States got its revenge with a win at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
There will be no finals rematch this time around as the two squads have to battle in the first match in the group stage. Considering only the winner of the group has a chance to win the tournament, there is a lot of pressure right away.
After winning eight of the last 11 titles at the Algarve Cup, Team USA has high expectations once again. However, the squad better be ready for a tough matchup right away.
When: Wednesday, March 5
Time: 7:45 a.m. ET
Where: Estadio Bela Vista, Parchal, Portugal
Top Storyline: Is the United States Ready for a Tough Competition?
The United States has played three matches so far in 2014 and come out with wins in all three. However, two of those were easy wins over Russia and the other was a 1-0 victory over Canada.
This tournament represents a big jump in competition, and it is unknown if the squad is ready for it.
Head coach Tom Sermanni had this to say about the next few matches, via USSoccer.com:
The group we’re in at the Algarve Cup will probably be the most significant test since I’ve come aboard and a different kind of challenge as we will be playing teams that have the belief and aim to come out to attack us and beat us. The dynamics of these games will be different than some of the more recent matches, and that’s something that we want, that we need and that the players are looking forward to.
Despite the fact that this is a group stage, there really is not much room for error, as a loss likely puts the team out of the running for a title. The players have to be ready for an aggressive opponent that can score at any point in the match.
If this group is not focused, it will fall behind early.
Prediction: United States 2, Japan 1
One big issue the Americans will have to overcome is the absence of Alex Morgan, who will miss the entire tournament with an ankle injury, according to the Associated Press.
On the other hand, that does not mean the group is lacking talent on the front line. Megan Rapinoe knows how to distribute the ball, while Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux are among the best finishers in the world.
Additionally, Tobin Heath will return to action after missing about eight months with an injury.
While Japan has a number of talented scorers who have loads of experience at this level, the Nadeshiko cannot match the quickness and skill of the defending champions. This should be a close battle, but the United States will do enough to come away with a victory.
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