USA vs. Japan: Complete Preview for Women's Olympic Soccer Gold Match
So here it is—the big finale.
The U.S. Women's National Team take on Japan in what promises to be a thrilling Olympic gold-medal match.
Pia Sundhage's team beat Canada with a dramatic last-gasp winner, while Japan overcame Brazil and then France to earn their spot in the final.
Here's your complete preview for the game.
When: Thursday, 9 August, 2:45 ET
Where: Wembley Stadium, London
How to watch the game
NBC Sports Network will show the game live at at 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT.
If you can't catch it on TV, Bleacher Report will bring you everything you need to know. I will be running a live blog throughout the game, so be sure to check in!
How They Made It
The U.S. Women's National Team qualified for the final, winning five games out of five. A perfect record assures them the favourites tag, but it's been far from plain sailing.
The USWNT started their Olympic campaign by going 2-0 down to France in 15 minutes, but they roared back to win it 4-2.
They eventually settled and recorded three consecutive clean-sheet victories against Colombia, Korea DPR and New Zealand. Then came the 4-3 epic against Canada, in which Alex Morgan scored a wonderful 123rd-minute goal.
Japan, too, are unbeaten in this competition, although they recorded two draws against South Africa and Sweden on the way to the final.
They dispatched Canada in their opening game far more ceremoniously than the U.S. did, and knocking Brazil out at the quarterfinal stage was a real head-turner.
Both teams go into the game riding high on form and confidence.
USA Starting XI
Pia Sundhage has tinkered slightly with the U.S. Women's National Team throughout the tournament, but she appears to have a settled on a preferred XI.
The defence has been relatively solid, save for the opening-game scare against France and an unfortunate injury to Shannon Boxx, which has moved Carli Lloyd into a consistent starting role.
Tobin Heath and Heather O'Reilly have shared one side of the midfield throughout the tournament, but Heath appears the favourite to start the final.
Probable USWNT Starting XI: Hope Solo; Rachel Buehler, Kelley O'Hara, Christine Rampone, Amy LePeilbet; Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney, Megan Rapinoe; Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan.
Japan Starting XI
If you thought Pia Sundhage's tinkering was unadventurous, then you're in for a treat with Japan's coach Norio Sasaki.
Apart from one group-stage game against South Africa where a multitude of stars were rested, the tried and trusted crew have been a constant fixture in this team.
Kyoko Yano, Megumi Takase and Kozue Ando, amongst others, were given a run out in that 0-0 draw, but they didn't do enough to land a spot in the starting XI against Brazil.
Expect the team that beat Brazil to face the U.S., barring any injuries.
Probable Japan Starting XI: Miho Fukumoto; Yukari Kinga, Azusa Iwashimizu, Saki Kumagai, Aya Sameshima; Mizuho Sakaguchi, Aya Miyama, Nahomi Kawasumi, Homare Sawa; Shinobu Ohno, Yuki Ogimi
USA Key Player: Megan Rapinoe
A lot of fuss is made over Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan—and rightfully so. They are all terrific players, and Wambach's outrageous goal-scoring record in particular demands praise.
But Megan Rapinoe, for me, is clearly the USWNT's most dangerous weapon. When she doesn't tick, the team doesn't either.
Against Korea DPR, despite their dominance, Morgan & Co. were simply unable to break down the opposing defence for long periods. This directly coincided with Rapinoe's isolation from the game, and when she finally turned it on, the U.S. looked a force.
This was the case in the opener against France, too, and in the second half, Rapinoe worked through the gears and proved instrumental to her team's win.
Japan Key Player: Aya Miyama
Even when Japan shuffled their pack and brought in squad players for the draw against South Africa, captain fantastic Aya Miyama was not rested.
The 2011 AFC Women's Player of the Year is the glue that holds Japan's solid midfield together. She has a huge influence on the pitch.
She scored Japan's crucial second goal in their opening game against Canada and has led by example.
The U.S. midfield is tough and likes to control the game. Miyama will put this to the test.
The U.S. Women's National Team have been phenomenal this summer. Five wins from five means they go in favourites, as discussed.
Don't underestimate the Japanese, though, as wins over Canada and Brazil mean they are more than a match for anyone.
Japan have no standout strikers, and their goals have very much been shared throughout the team. With a lack of cutting edge from one particular star player, I expect USWNT's excellent defence to contain them nicely.
In stark comparison, the U.S. do have a standout striker or two. "Baby Horse" Alex Morgan has turned in some wonderful performances, while Abby Wambach continues to excel, with five goals so far.
Prediction: A classic, cagey final. One goal for Pia Sundhage's troops wins it.
U.S. 1-0 Japan
What Does It Mean for Women's Soccer?
Particularly in the U.K., where the Olympics are being held, women's football is not popular and not considered very interesting.
Things are about to change. The patriotism the U.S. show toward anything connected to their flag is incredible, and this has rubbed off—to an extent—on Great Britain.
Great Britain don't have poster-women such as Alex Morgan and Hope Solo for the public to latch onto, but social media has shown people will now sit down and watch a game of women's football.
GB, Brazil and Canada were bitterly disappointed to see their respective teams go out—this simply hasn't been the case over the last 30 years.