Winning a single World Cup is hard enough, but getting back to the final and having a chance to repeat is twice as difficult. Yet, for Japan the journey through the 2015 Women’s World Cup has led them to back-to-back finals for the first time in the country’s history.
Their own-goal win over England in the semi-finals meant a rematch of the entertaining 2011 final against the United States was on tap. Revenge or new dominant country? That’s the question this time around.
A win for Japan for the second competition in a row and there can be little doubt over who rules the women’s international game. A United States win and the USWNT becomes the winnigest side in Women’s World Cup history.
So, how does Japan top the United States once again? Here are five reasons why the Japanese will beat the United States on Sunday in Vancouver.
Technical Genius Trumps Pure Power
While there is little denying that the USWNT is the most physical side in the Women’s World Cup this time around, there’s also little denying that Japan is the most technically gifted side too. Just how gifted? Japan has completed 80 percent of its passes throughout the tournament and 61 percent inside the final third — both totals that lead the tournament.
Japan gets that done because it doesn’t just stand around stagnant out of its traditional looking 4-4-2 formation. There are runs coming from everywhere and when you add that in with technical precision there’s little room for error on the defensive side of things.
Don’t let the over 500-minute scoreless streak of the United States fool you, that defense has been vulnerable to counterattacks and have had to rely on Hope Solo more than a few times to save their bacon.
You Can’t Win If You Don’t Have The Ball
No side in this tournament has better with possession than the Nadeshiko, and given the history of these two sides against each other possession is going to matter a lot. In the last two major tournament finals the side that controlled the ball better won — a pretty simple proposition.
While the USWNT put it together nicely in the win over Germany, it was the first time all tournament that Jill Ellis’ side was able to accomplish that. Japan on the other hand, it has been used to running possession on opponents all tournament long. Look for the Nadeshiko to attempt and starve out the USWNT midfield of possession with a compact game up the middle of the pitch.
Given the recent history of these two sides, Japan is more adept at holding on to the ball and playing on the ground. If the Japanese start out the game with quick passing and possession, it will spell victory in the end for them.
Two Words, One Player — Aya Miyama
Lots of people will tell you how amazing Megan Rapinoe is, and they are right. However, Japan has an equally talented left midfielder in Aya Miyama. Her talent has shown through all tournament long and one could argue that this is her team. That’s a rare feat for a left midfielder, but Miyama has shown why the Japan attack often runs through her.
What makes her so dangerous is her ability to not only play on the wing, but tuck inside and use her right foot from the left side of midfield. Her swinging crosses and pace are difficult for anyone to deal with and the USWNT will have its hands full with her.
Miyama has two goals and two assists in the tournament, which may not wow on the stat sheet but she does so much work that won’t show up there.
If Japan wins, look for Miyama to win an intriguing battle with Rapinoe.
Because Sometimes Stats Do Matter
As the old saying goes, “You can throw the stats out in this one,” and it would be tempting in the rubber match of a three game stretch of major finals. Japan won the 2011 Women’s World Cup and the United States took home the Gold Medal at the 2012 Summer Olympic games.
So, sure the stats could be thrown out with this game, but stats can also be a telling sign of things to come even in the most bitter of situations. The trick is figuring out which ones matter most and in this matchup there are two stats that stick out.
First is the USWNT streak of over 500 minutes without a goal being scored on them, second is Japan’s 80 percent pass completion rate.
One of those two numbers is going to have to give for either side to win this match. Having seen what the USWNT defense has been challenged with from the flanks and from sides with pace, Japan’s 80 percent pass rate sticks out the most.
Give Japan time to complete multiple passes and make their runs, there’s a great chance the USWNT defense breaks down and Hope Solo can’t always be the savior. Japan wins this one if it plays its possession-based game to perfection.
Revenge Only Gets You So Far
Yes, the USWNT is out to avenge the loss in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final — we all get that. But that only lasts for so long as a motivating factor in a 90-minute soccer match. Surely it will be an advantage in the adrenaline department early on, but don’t expect that to last much more than the first 10 minutes.
No way Ali Krieger is thinking about “I’ve got to get revenge on this team” as she’s dealing with another darting run from Aya Miyama or a ball going to the corner. Reality is, this game is going to be settled by the team who handles the nerves and the big stage the best.
With a very pro-American crowd likely to be on hand for this match, there’s very little in the way of outside expectations on Japan. Again, that’s advantage Japan, as that side has very little to lose in this match according to the outside world. Just play the game and let the result speak for itself.
That sounds like a side with a huge psychological advantage when it comes to pressure situations.