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How can the USA over come Japan in the WWC final?

USA vs Japan Final: 4 ways USWNT can claim revenge to lift 3rd FIFA Women's World Cup title

July 4, 2015 By Michelle Bonsu
On Sunday, July 5th, the USWNT will have a chance to avenge their 2011 WWC Final loss as they take on Japan. Will they succeed this time?

After four weeks of thrills, spills, heartbreak, joy, and controversy, we have now finally arrived at the moment fans have been waiting for: the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final. For the first time, the Women's World Cup featured 24 teams, meaning that viewers had the chance to see sides like Cameroon, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Ivory Coast, Thailand, and Spain all have their debut on the world stage. Of course, there were the tournament favourites, with Germany, the USA, France, Brazil, and Japan all viewed as serious contenders to win it in Vancouver tomorrow evening.

England hoped to crash the party by having an impressive run to the semi-finals, where they were denied what would have been a well-deserved place in the finals in the cruelest fashion possible. The Three Lionesses were vastly superior against reigning champions Japan for large spells of the game, but fortune continues to smile on the Nadeshiko, who were given a reprieve when Laura Bassett turned a cross into her own net. Still, they will head home with their heads held high after defeating Germany for the first time in 20 games to finish third in a tournament in which no one had given them much thought of making an impact.

Sunday's final will be a re-match between the USA and Japan, meaning that this will be third time the Stars and Stripes take on a familiar foe in a final in the past four years . In 2011, it was Japan to hold their nerve as they defeated the two-time World Cup champions on penalties to become the first ever Asian side to win. A year later, team USA got some measure of revenge by coming out on top during the 2012 Olympics, but they will not be satisfied until they can beat Japan in a World Cup final to become the first team to earn three titles.

So, how can Jill Ellis's side go about overcoming their Asian opponents, who have yet to lose a game at this World Cup despite never beating another team by more than one goal? Here are some things they may wish to consider:

1. Avoid defensive errors at all cost

This may seem ridiculously obvious, but if one watched the England-Japan tie, one would have seen exactly what made the difference in favour of the Japanese, despite being below their usual top standards for parts of the contest. They first were given a contentious penalty after a foul committed by Claire Rafferty on Saori Ariyoshi was deemed inside the box rather than outside. And it was Basset's unfortunate own goal due to a valiant attempt to clear that sealed the current title holders' spot in this final.

So far, the USWNT back-line has put on a titanic performance. Made up of the impressive quintet of Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Ali Kreiger, and Meghan Klingenberg, they have only allowed one goal in this entire tournament - during a 3-1 win over Australia. However, they were nearly undone against Germany when Johnston was fortunate not to be sent off after fouling striker Alexandra Popp in the box And Lady Luck again made an appearance for the United States when Celia Šašić failed to convert from the spot, which firmly turned the tide in favour of team USA to defeat the top-ranked women's side 2-0.

Hence, it's as obvious as it's simple: Play a perfect game and avoid any unnecessary or reckless fouls that could swing things in the direction of Japan, who will be happy to sit back and absorb pressure should they get and convert a penalty given in their favour.

2. Overwhelm the opposition

And this brings us to our next point: Japan are not a team that need to score three goals to win a game. In fact, as noted before, they have yet to beat anyone by more than one goal and have recorded narrow 1-0 victories in 50 per cent of their six wins. Against Ecuador and Switzerland, they struck in the first half and held firm to earn three points, and against Australia, they frustrated the Matildas until finally breaking through in the 87th minute.

This is where the USWNT need to strike first - and strike early. Just as they boast a top-class defense, they have several excellent attacking options on their roster, with the likes of Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and veteran striker Abby Wambach who could pose a threat due to her height and strength. Beyond that, there are additional choices such as Kelley O'Hara, who sealed the win for Germany, the speedy Amy Rodriguez, and Christen Press.

It will be up to Ellis to pick her formation carefully, whether to use a 4-3-3 or to stick to her usual 4-4-2 and to decide how to mix and match the numerous offerings she has at her disposal, but whoever she fields tomorrow, she will be expecting them to take the game to Norio Sasaki's team right from kick-off.

3. Size does not matter. Or does it?

What made Japan's win in 2011 even more impressive is the fact that many of their players are quite petite. To get there, they first had to beat Sweden and Germany, teams that can be described as powerhouses both literally and figuratively due to the taller stature of the majority of their squads. Like many teams, the United States will have a height and strength advantage over the Nadeshiko and must use this to their ability. Despite Japan's technical skills, they were hassled and bullied by an aggressive and more powerful English side which made it difficult for them to play their game, and had Sampson's ladies been more efficient with their chances, we could have been talking about an interesting USA versus England final tomorrow evening.

As such, Japan prefer to keep the ball moving quickly on the ground and the USA can use their size advantage especially during corner kicks and free kicks, in which their opponent's aerial deficiencies will be exposed.

4. Forget about 2011

This will be easier said than done. The bulk of the USWNT were on the team that experienced heartbreak in Germany and they will obviously have that in the back of their minds as they take to the pitch tomorrow. However, Japan have their own core of players who will also remember that day, albeit with much glee as they made history in Frankfurt. Whilst many of Ellis's squad have been using the pain of that loss to motivate them throughout this tournament, they are finally where they want to be: 90 minutes from a third World Cup title.

The nucleus might be still there, but this is still a different USA side from the team that took to the pitch in Germany. Throughout the course of this World Cup, they have been steadily improving, as shown during their good performance against Germany and should banish memories from that hot July day in 2011 as they prepare to take on a familiar opponent, but commence a new adventure.

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