They say that things come in threes and women's football seems to be no exception. While Japan overcame USA in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™ final, the Americans got their own back to take gold at the 2012 Olympics. Now these two teams will do battle in the deciding match of a major competition for a third time in what promises to be an engrossing conclusion to the Women's World Cup Canada 2015.
Match of the day
USA-Japan, Vancouver, 5 July, 16:00 (local time)
At Canada 2015, USA have kept up their streak of gracing at least the semi-finals in all seven stagings of the tournament and progressed to their fourth final. Indeed, the two-time winners have never finished lower than third on the world stage, a record to strike fear into the hearts of any opposition. However, one of their final defeats, in 2011, came as heavy favourites against a Japan side who were in unfamiliar territory and had not been given much hope against high-profile figures such as Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Christie Rampone.
Once again, USA look to have a slight edge on paper. Not only do they sit ahead of Japan in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking - second compared to fourth - but they have also had an arguably more impressive run so far. The Stars and Stripes topped a tough group featuring Australia, Nigeria and Sweden before successively knocking out Colombia, China PR and fellow double-titlists Germany in convincing fashion. The Nadeshiko, on the other hand, have won every match by a single goal, scraping past four debutants (Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador and the Netherlands) prior to edging to victory over Australia and, in dramatic circumstances, England.
Nevertheless, there should be no underestimating the Japanese, who followed up their 2011 conquest by reaching the final at London 2012 and claiming their first AFC Women's Asian Cup in 2014.
Players to watch
*As one of the three American players to miss from the spot in the final shoot-out at Germany 2011, *Carli Lloyd must have had many a nightmare about Japan. That said, she did go some way towards settling the scores a year later with a match-winning brace against the same opponents on the way to capturing the Olympic crown. Will her third final against the Japanese end in joy or tears?
On the other hand, Yuki Nagasato was the sole Japanese penalty taker who failed to convert in 2011, but that did not stop her from lifting the trophy. Though she hit the net the following year in London, by which time she had got married and changed her name to Yuki Ogimi, that strike was not enough to avoid the disappointment of defeat. What does fate have in store for her this time round?
*33.3 -* Japan have scored 33.3 per cent of their goals in the first quarter of an hour of their games in Canada and a further 33 per cent in the last 15 minutes. By contrast, the Americans have notched a third of their efforts between the 45th and 60th minutes and another third between the 60th and 75th – two periods in which the Asians have drawn blanks.
*"The two teams played out a wonderful match in 2011 and for the sake of women's football, I hope it's a similar affair in 2015 – that in itself would make me very happy. We faced them in a friendly last year, in which we felt the force of their power. We will apply the lessons we learned from that in the final," *Japan coach Norio Sasaki.