PRE – So here it is. The rubber match in what has turned into the best rivalry in women’s soccer. The U.S. has to be considered the favorite after easing past Germany in the semis and having looked an entirely different team after the enforced changes before the quarterfinal. They haven’t lacked for chances against Japan in past encounters, it’s just a matter of making the most of them now. Japan has shown moments of vulnerability all throughout this tournament but have made teams pay for not making the most of their chances. Can they pull another rabbit out of their hat and retain their title?
3’ – GOAL – United States (Lloyd) – Dream start or nightmare start depending on your persuasion. Off a corner, the U.S. delivers low, with Ohno missing her interception. Lloyd swoops in and hammers it low and beyond Kaihori for the game’s first goal.
5’ – GOAL – United States (Lloyd) – Another set piece calamity for Japan. Heath wins a free kick in a dangerous spot, functioning almost as a short corner. The delivery goes to the near post, with Johnston backheeling into the area. It bounces around the area, and Lloyd pounces on space in between two Japanese defenders to scrap it home. An unbelievable American start.
14’ – GOAL – United States (Holiday) – The trophy is coming back to America. Krieger drives a cross into the box, which, for some reason, Iwashimizu tries to clear with a stooping header. This just pops it up into the air, with Holiday running onto it and volleying it home. Great finish, suicidal defending.
16’ – GOAL – United States (Lloyd) – This is like something from another planet. Japan gives it away cheaply near midfield, and Lloyd takes a few dribbles around a Japanese player before letting fly from the halfway line. Kaihori is off her line and can’t get there as it bounces off the inside of the left post and across the goal for a hat trick with barely a quarter of an hour on the clock gone. Unbelievable goal, and this is one of the best individual displays in a final for any sport. Ever.
18’ – And it should be 5-0. Despite being doubled up, Rapinoe gets down the flank and passes to Klingenberg. Her cross to Carli Lloyd is excellent, but Lloyd misses the target for once with her header.
23’ – Briefest sign of life from the Japanese attack, as Sakaguchi tries her luck from range. The shot dips and looks to be heading wide, but Solo comes out to dive for it for no reason in particular.
24’ – Long ball for Morgan who outraces Iwashimizu to the bouncing ball near the endline before cutting back inside and getting some space to shoot. Said shot is a tame effort right at Kaihori though. It’s been that type of tournament for Morgan.
27’ – GOAL – Japan (Ogimi) – Start of the great escape? OK, probably not. But Naho does well to get the ball wide before cutting inside and crossing to Ogimi. The forward posts up and spins through a falling Johnston before rifling a shot past Solo. 4-1.
28’ – Right back at the other end, Morgan fires into the sidenetting. As it turns out, that Japan goal left the U.S. just short of breaking the WWC shutout streak.
29’ – Crazy, crazy sequence, and Japan should only be down by two goals! Japan finds space between the lines, and a cross towards the near post is headed straight up into the air by the U.S. It ends up with Naho at the far post, and she squares back through the six. It evades Solo and the defense, and if a Japanese player was standing on the near post, it’d be 4-2. But there isn’t, and Japan has to play it back to Miyama, who hits a tame shot right at Solo.
33’ – SUB – Time to roll the dice for Japan, as they bring on Homare Sawa for Iwashimizu, who it has to be said, had an absolute nightmare.
39’ – SUB – Aggressive subbing from Japan, as Naho comes out for Yuika Sugasawa. I don’t doubt Sasaki often, but surprised to see Naho come off as she had been a spark in attack thus far.
42’ – Morgan has a penalty shout turned down, and right after a cross is headed by Lloyd towards goal. It’s deflected off a Japanese defender for another corner. Lloyd really wants #4.
HT – Barring the greatest comeback in soccer history, we’re forty-five minutes from a coronation. The U.S. blitzed Japan early, drowning them under a torrent of goals and taking advantage of some atypically shocking defending from the holders. The Asian side has calmed down, but it looks to be far too little, far too late, even if they have clawed one back.
50’ – U.S. still on top early in the second half as they ping it around. Brian comes close to making it 5-1 with a long range drive that’s tipped over by Kaihori.
52’ – GOAL – Japan (Johnston OG) – It couldn’t be, could it? Miyama’s free kick loops fatefully in the box, with Johnston leaping up and heading it backwards, with the header beating Solo at her left post.
54’ – GOAL – United States (Heath) – OK, now it’s over. Off a corner, Kaihori gets stranded as the ball goes across the face of goal. Brian waits at the far post and crosses back into the six to an unmarked Heath, who fires home to make it 5-2.
59’ – SUB – Japan make their final sub, with Ohno coming off for Mana Iwabuchi.
61’ – SUB – The U.S. brings on Kelley O’Hara to replace Megan Rapinoe.
62’ – Utsugi tries a spectacular volley from distance but sees it skirt just wide of the post for Japan.
63’ – Almost six. Heath crosses into the box, where Morgan chests it down and turns under very little pressure. She shoots for the right post but just slides her shot wide. She certainly hasn’t lacked for chances this match.
66 ‘ – The U.S. come close to a sixth. They play a long ball over the flagging Japan backline. Kumagai tries to shield Lloyd off, playing an ill-advised backpass to Kaihori that sees the keeper get lit up by the American. Foul.
70’ – O’Hara gets a good look at goal when a corner is deflected back out to the edge of the area, but the winger whacks it over.
71’ – It’s really opened up. Miyama floats a teasing ball towards the six that Solo contemplates coming for and finally does, just getting there and punching away.
76’ – It’s far too little, too late, but Japan continues to cause a few problems via Plan B, AKA dumping crosses into the box. This time, Miyama plays another great ball that Sugasawa gets a firm header on. It’s right to Solo though.
79’ – SUB – Heath comes off as Abby Wambach comes on for her World Cup swan song.
80’ – Japan has the chance to swing in a free kick from out wide, and Miyama does the honors, with Solo coming flying off her line again to make the punch.
82’ – YELLOW CARD – Japan (Sawa) – Homare Sawa’s booked after chasing down Wambach and tackling her indiscreetly from behind.
86’ – SUB – Last sub for the U.S. as Morgan makes way for Christie Rampone in her final World Cup appearance.
FT – And it’s over. The U.S. are world champions in emphatic fashion after one of the most astonishing performances in a final in sports history. Carli Lloyd’s performance will go down in American sport legend, especially the third goal from the halfway line. Japan self-destructed defensively early on and weren’t able to do nearly enough to dig themselves out of a massive hole. In the end, the U.S. and Jill Ellis started out the tournament in painful fashion but found the magic combination, fatefully, in the quarterfinal, when forced into changes. There’ll be many questions as to who makes the Olympic roster, but the USWNT should be favored again to win their third consecutive major tournament.