The Japanese national team has never been to the Women’s World Cup final. The United States team has won it twice.
On paper, history would seem to favor the Americans. And the headline-inducing performances by the US, including Abby Wambach’s 122nd-minute equalizer against Brazil in the quarterfinals and Hope Solo’s consistent brilliance in the American goal, have many observers believing Pia Sundhage’s team is destined to win.
But the Japanese have been playing some of the most scintillating soccer of any side in Germany. Led by midfielder Homare Sawa and veteran striker Yuki Nagasato, the Norio Sasaki’s side has used a fast-paced, possession-oriented game to overcome several favored opponents, including Germany and Sweden.
The USA have faced off against Japan twice before in the World Cup, and come away winners both times. In 1991, the Americans won 3-0, and in 1995 repeated the result, 4-0.
Path to the Final
Finished second in Group B, with two wins and a loss. Beat two-time defending champions Germany, 1-0, in the quarterfinals. Beat Sweden 3-1 in the semifinals.
Finished second in Group C with two wins and a loss. Beat Brazil in penalties in the quarterfinals, after 2-2 finish. Beat France, 3-1, in the semifinals.
Players to Watch
Japan: Homare Sawa
The former Washington Freedom midfielder, the most decorated international Japanese player, is appearing in her 5th WWC. She has been the creative mainstay for the Japanese side during this World Cup, sparking the attack with four goals, good enough for joint lead in the Golden Boot list.
USA: Ali Kreiger
The Frankfurt defender is often mentioned in connection with health issues in 2005, when she experienced six mini-heart attacks. But this World Cup has been a breakout performance as the Penn State grad has been nearly unbeatable on the US backline, starting all five matches.