The top rivalry in women's football will continue on Sunday, July 5, when the United States and Japan meet in the final of the 2015 Women's World Cup at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, Canada.
The two sides met in the previous World Cup final, where Nadeshiko Japan emerged victorious, and the final of the 2012 Olympics, where it was the Stars and Stripes' turn to shine. It's only fitting that the 2015 World Cup ends with the most high-profile clash in women's football today.
Both sides have shown flaws during the tournament but ultimately deserve to be here, and while the USA will be favourites heading into the match, Japan cannot be underestimated. Here's everything you need to know about Sunday's final:
|2015 Women's World Cup Final|
|Date||Time (ET)||Time (BST)||Venue||Match|
|July 5||7 p.m.||Midnight||BC Place Stadium, Vancouver||USA vs. Japan|
Along with Germany and France, Japan and the USA were undoubtedly big favourites to win this year's World Cup. Carli Lloyd didn't mince her words ahead of Sunday's final, and for good reason:
The final of the 2015 Women's World Cup will be the first-ever repeat matchup, according to ESPN FC's Paul Carr, and seeing how the two sides also met in the final of the 2012 Olympics, it's safe to say Japan and the USA have emerged as the current dominant forces in women's football.
However, both teams have mainly relied on some of their lesser stars to get to the final.
Abby Wambach hasn't even been a regular starter for the Yanks, and Alex Morgan's indifferent form has forced the team to rely more on its quality in midfield, as opposed to just feeding the ball to the strikers.
Megan Rapinoe has arguably been the star of this year's World Cup, anchoring a U.S. midfield unit that has done a splendid job of shielding the defence. And per Fusion's Richard Farley, that defence hasn't been too shabby, either:
The USA has conceded just a single goal all tournament, during their opening match against Australia, and while the Stars and Stripes have at times struggled to create chances offensively, their defensive resilience makes them incredibly dangerous.
Japan's defence has been almost as impressive, conceding just three goals all tournament. But more importantly, they've approached every match as a team. Discounting England defender Laura Bassett's own goal which sent Nadeshiko Japan to the final, seven players have combined to score eight goals for the side.
Aya Miyama leads the team with two goals, and the 30-year-old midfielder perhaps best embodies this Japanese side―diminutive, hard-working and ridiculously fast. No team works the ball around quicker than Japan, and they'll likely dominate possession against the Americans as well.
Japan know their best chance of keeping teams at bay is not giving up the ball, and they have a tendency to find the open spaces out wide easily. Scotland international Kim Little previously spoke of her admiration of how the team approaches the game:
The USA's best chance for success will be the aerial game, where Japan's lack of size comes into play. On set pieces in particular, Japan's defence can sometimes look completely lost, and England nearly managed to take advantage in the semi-finals. The Yanks have already shown an uncanny ability to rule in the air, and that battle will be vital in the final.
The Stars and Stripes will be favourites entering the final, but there's plenty of work to be done before kick-off. Big stars often make the difference in key matches, and those players have yet to show up for the USA.
Morgan in particular has disappointed during the knockout stages, and Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl even openly suggested taking her off the pitch prematurely against Germany:
Rapinoe and Lloyd have looked dominant in midfield, but given Japan's tendency to use a very compact defence and limit spaces near the box, there's a good chance this match could be decided by a single moment of brilliance from one of the strikers. And with the way Morgan has played of late, she seems unlikely to provide such a moment.
Wambach makes for a nice alternative, and her ability in the air could be crucial. The veteran is more than experienced enough, and if the Yanks can't find an easy goal, it might be a good idea to bring her on early in the second half and attack Japan head-on.
Prediction: USA 2-1 Japan