If USA versus Japan sounds familiar it’s because the two teams have battled it out over recent years for soccer supremacy. Japan played spoiler to the Americans’ dreams of winning their third World Cup in 2011, but the Red, White and Blue soon exacted revenge in 2012 by beating Japan in the Olympic final. Now the U.S. has the genuine rematch they have been waiting for, a chance to defeat the reigning World Cup champs for the title.
Should they win the World Cup, the story of how the Americans reached the final will be one for the ages. The U.S. won the “Group of Death” and then went on to beat Colombia and China, but it was Germany who presented the biggest challenge and who would determine if the US would make it back to the final for the fourth time in seven tournaments. In every single match, the Americans have risen to the challenge despite criticism that they weren’t scoring enough goals. Against the Germans, Coach Ellis debuted a new formation, 4-3-3, though Alex Morgan was the only true forward. Whatever you want to call it, it was enough to confuse and out-pass the Germans in the middle.
After Celia Sasic missed the first penalty kick in German World Cup history, you could feel the Germans’ growing frustrations as they continued to struggle to get a shot on goal. At the other end, Alex Morgan was fouled in the box and Carli Lloyd scored her penalty kick giving the U.S. the go-ahead goal, marking her third goal in three consecutive games this tournament. Substitute Kelly O’Hara would get her first ever international goal in the 84th minute to seal the deal. In front of a 51,000+ sold out crowd of red, white and blue in Montreal, Quebec, it was the Americans’ best performance yet and sends them into the finals with soaring confidence.
On the other side of the bracket, Japan-England faced off and had an equal amount of drama in their match. Like the USA-Germany game, both teams would get penalty kick opportunities. Japan struck first with a penalty kick by Nadeshiko captain Aya Miyama. Then it was England’s turn to capitalize on a penalty kick by Fara Williams who got past Japan’s keeper Ayumi Kaihori. England looked as though they just might break through in the second half but had shots deflected or blocked by Kaihori. After 90 minutes it appeared as though the match would go into extra time and perhaps a penalty kick shoot out. But with less than a minute remaining in stoppage time, England’s Laura Basset attempted to clear a service into the box out of danger and instead directed it into her own goal, out of the reach of keeper Karen Barnaby. With no time left to mount an attack it was a heartbreaking end to the Lionesses brilliant run, making it a game shy from the final.
Japan and the USA will clash on Sunday, July 5th in BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia, which will be televised on Fox at 7pm ET. More than revenge, the U.S. simply wants to win their third World Cup title. It has been four years since they nearly won it, and an even longer 16 years since the last time the USA raised the World Cup trophy. Winning it all would be the perfect ending to leading goal scorer, Abby Wambach’s brilliant career. Ahead of Sunday’s match, Abby expressed her respect for Japan stating, ‘’We just beat the No. 1 team in the world in Germany and now we face Japan, another team that we have so much respect for. They have an amazing team and they’re the reigning World Cup champions, so I think it’s going to be a fantastic final.’‘
Here’s a look back at the 2011 penalty kick shoot out between Japan and the U.S.