Japanese Finesse takes on US Grit in World Cup Final


Final Preview: US vs. Japan (Sunday, 11:45 a.m. PST)

by Kara McDermott

This year’s Women’s World Cup final will be a showdown between the skill and finesse of Japan and the hardy grit of the US squad.

And while America’s current career record against them is 22-0-3, the worst tactic they can take is to discount a team that has used their underdog status to upset at every stage so far.

Japan is possibly one of the most technically proficient teams we have seen in this tournament. In their semi-final game against Sweden, they dominated the run of play, holding possession for 64% of the time. And therein lies their greatest asset: once they get the ball, they hold the ball. They scurry about with a flurry of quick, short passes, forcing their opponents to give chase. Through this they can wear down a team with a combination of frustration and fatigue.

However, the downfall of this style is that their offense is not as aggressive and surprising as the American squad. They prefer to build plays and don’t necessarily use their speed for through balls and devastating transitions out of the defense. For the American defense, this can be a blessing, because as solid as they are, they are not at their best in foot races.

The US defense will also have to be careful on challenges. They will hold a significant height and size advantage, which can make every tackle look more dramatic and will open them up to more set pieces. A mark in Japan’s favor is that though they average 5′ 4″, they have not made sport of diving or exaggerating tackles. Fans can expect a game without much of those tactics from either side.

One of the most dangerous things a team can do is to allow the Japanese team with set-piece technician Aya Miyama and consummate finisher Homare Sawa to have their way with corners and free kicks close to home. However, on America’s offensive third they can utilize their height advantage and the superb crossing of midfielders like Megan Rapinoe and Heather O’Reilly to find targets in the middle, particularly header specialist Abbie Wambach, to create catastrophe for Japan in the air.

The US women will be looking to play to their strengths. Particularly they will be looking to their outsides to spread the Japanese squad, which the Asian squad has consistently resisted. And as much as the Japanese like to wear down their opponents, the Americans have made an art of it. There has not been a team so far in this tournament that has been able to match the fitness and athleticism of the US squad. They will force Japan to play full out for a full 90 minutes, and though they came through against  Germany in the quarterfinals, Japan does not want to risk extra time or penalty kicks with the Americans.

Japan is advancing to the finals for the first time in their history, after advancing to the semifinals for their history and having not advanced out of group play since 1995 (the US denied their progress that year by beating them 4-0 in the quarterfinals). The US is returning to the finals for the first time since their win in 1999 off of back of dramatic games against Brazil and France in the quarter and semifinals. It’s hard to say which is more of a sentimental favorite, really the only thing that can be said with any certainty is fans should be treated to a spectacular match against two good teams.


Third Place Preview: France vs. Sweden (Saturday, 8:30 a.m. PST)


France and Sweden lost by the same line in their quarterfinal match (3-1), but the score line does not reflect how narrowly the US defeated the former, and how much more Japan should have beaten the latter. If Lotta Schelin shows up for Sweden, France should have a handful on their defensive end. If Louisa Necib and Maurie-Laure Delie finish their chances, Sweden will probably go home empty-handed.

Both teams have done well against tough competition between Sweden’s win over the US in group play and France’s keeping a tight score line in their loss to Germany and their rallying penalties to win in quarterfinals against England. France is more likely to prevail with their crisper play of late.

Kara McDermott also writes for her blog, Waving the Rave.


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