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Women's World Cup Finals 2015: Early Preview for Japan vs. USA Championship

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2015

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 30:  Abby Wambach #20 of the United States celebrates after the USA 2-0 victory against Germany in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Semi-Final Match at Olympic Stadium on June 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Bring on the rematch.

Much like four years ago, when Japan won the Women's World Cup in a penalty shootout, this year's edition will be a matchup between the United States and the Japanese. And these teams met again in the 2012 Olympics, too, with the Americans taking home the gold medal in that contest. 

So yes, these squads are plenty familiar with one another. 

The two teams reached the final in somewhat divergent fashions. Despite a few questionable calls that went their way, the United States dominated Germany—the No. 1 seed in the tournament—and won, 2-0. Japan, on the other hand, was largely outplayed by England but managed to advance to the final after a 92nd-minute own goal by Laura Bassett. 

Don't expect the United States to be happy with anything but having their revenge.

The Americans will certainly go into the match as the favorites. Pretty big favorites, in fact, per Paul Carr of ESPN:

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Paul Carr @PaulCarrTM

#USWNT-Japan will be the first repeat Women's World Cup final. U.S. is a 66% title favorite, per @FiveThirtyEight's WSPI.

So deep is the squad that Abby Wambach—one of the greatest American soccer players to ever take the pitch—has been coming off the bench, while the team has managed to survive Alex Morgan's rusty finishing after she spent the lead-up to the World Cup recovering from injury.

While Carli Lloyd has been the star and Megan Rapinoe has provided the sizzle, the team's dominance in the midfield and defense has been the biggest storyline of the tournament. The United States have given up a solitary goal in this tournament, and that was all the way back in the group stage. 

That defensive unit—along with keeper Hope Solo—will have a chance to make history in the final, per ESPN on Twitter: 

ESPN @espn

The #USWNT hasn't allowed a goal in 513 minutes, just 28 short of the all-time World Cup record. Reaction #LIVEonSC. http://t.co/6UkJcT7cyd

Japan's balance isn't to be ignored, of course. They have used all 23 of their players at this tournament, and of their nine goals—eight scored by Japanese players—seven different women have scored them. Only star and captain Aya Miyama has scored twice for the Japanese. 

Getting off to a quick start will be vital for both teams, especially for the United States, as Japan have scored first in every game this tournament. 

While the United States will likely concede a fair amount of possession to the Japanese, who control the ball as well as any team in the world, the United States will also pressure the Japanese high up the pitch and look to keep them uncomfortable on the ball. As they did against Germany, the Americans will then look to quickly hit on the counter once they regain possession, hoping their superior athleticism can catch the Japanese by surprise. 

They'll be wise to study the English game plan against Japan, as England really controlled the game at points, namely in the second half. Set pieces will also likely be key, as the United States can use their superior size to steal a goal. 

As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and these teams illustrate that. Japan have given up just three goals at this tournament and use their possession-based attack to keep their opponents at bay. The United States, meanwhile, have the best keeper in the world in Solo and have fashioned a brick wall in front of her with the tournament's best back line. 

One thing that won't distinguish one team from the other? Experience, as Kate Markgraf of ESPN noted:

Kate Markgraf @katemarkgraf

Two of the oldest teams in the #FIFAWWC2015 in the finals #USA and #JPN. Experience matters to ride out the rough spots to go onto win.

So which team will crack the code?

It's hard to imagine the United States losing, especially after they controlled the match against Germany and Japan were lucky to get through against England. Morgan is due for a goal, Lloyd has played like a woman on a mission, and the United States haven't shown a single weakness. They are a win away from going down as arguably the greatest women's international team in history.

That's high praise, but they've earned it to this point. As they learned four years ago against Japan, however, what is said before the final doesn't matter, only what happens during it. This year, the United States will ensure that what happens will be World Cup title, as they'll beat Japan, 2-0. 

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