Clash of styles
Athletic Americans take on technical Japanese in World Cup final
UNITED STATES v JAPAN
(Tomorrow, 7am, BC Place, Vancouver)
The United States enter the Women's World Cup final tomorrow morning (Singapore time) battle-hardened and seeking revenge, while Japan are determined to retain the trophy they denied the Americans four years ago.
It all adds up to a spicy finale to the global showcase that began on June 6 under the shadow of a Fifa corruption scandal but ends with the players in the spotlight in an intriguing contest that is set to cap off a month of record-smashing television ratings and attendance figures.
Another capacity crowd of over 50,000 is expected to fill BC Place in Vancouver, Canada.
Once again, most of the crowd will be flag-waving, face-painted Americans who have poured across the Canadian border to support their girls - who start as firm favourites with the bookmakers.
Downtown Vancouver was awash in red, white and blue on Friday as smiling packs of American fans began a weekend of partying they hope will culminate with the US hoisting the trophy for a record third time, following victories in 1991 and 1999.
"These are two talented teams with a lot of history and rivalry and I think it will be a classic match-up," said US coach Jill Ellis.
"Both teams have a lot of the same players from 2011 but, that said, this is a different (US) team on a different journey and I know all 23 players and our staff are tremendously excited for this next challenge."
The final will offer a fascinating contrast of styles and personalities as different as the two nations - the big, brash, athletic Americans who take a very direct approach on the field facing a clinical Japanese side that rely on a clever, short-passing game.
"In 2011, both teams had a wonderful game in the final, and for women's football around the world, I hope that we will have a wonderful game like we did then," said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.
No team have had a harder path to the final than the US, who emerged top of the Group of Death that featured three top-10 ranked teams and then stormed through the knockout phase without conceding a goal - dispatching Colombia, China and top-ranked Germany.
As always, controversy has never been far from the US camp with goalkeeper Hope Solo refusing to deal with new domestic abuse allegations, and Abby Wambach, women football's all-time leading scorer, dispatched to the bench.
But the distractions have had no impact on the Americans, who have been impenetrable in defence. They have not conceded a goal since the 27th minute of their opening match against Australia.
In the process, Solo has racked up five clean sheets.
Certainly, there is no shortage of extra motivation on both sides.
Many members of the US team were also in the squad that fell to Japan on penalties in the 2011 final in Germany.
For Japan, there is also a little bit of revenge to be exacted, as the Asian champions seek to get one back on the Americans for the London Olympics gold-medal game, which the US won 2-1.
The Japanese have gone about their business quietly, going through the tournament with a 100 per cent record, notching six straight wins - all by one-goal margins.
After topping their group, Japan methodically disposed of Holland but struggled to break down Australia in the quarter-finals - needing a late winner that television replays suggested was offside.
Japan also needed a bit of good fortune to sink England in the semi-finals when Laura Bassett scored a stoppage-time own goal to present the Nadeshiko a spot in the final.
"In order to be the best team in the world at the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams," said Wambach.
"(Japan) have an amazing team and they're the reigning World Cup champions, so I think it's going to be a fantastic final." - Reuters.