[Twist: This is a great preview for the Finals match today. We'll have an open thread up in a few hours, but for now check this post one. Also, scroll down to vote in this weekend's CGB Hall Of Fame matchups or click here or here. GO BEARS]
Very early morning for me (and noon time for the rest of you), the United States will take on Japan in the Women's World Cup Finals! Winner gets a really nice paper weight - I mean, the World Cup Trophy. The last time the US has won the World Cup was in 1999.
It's been a long and surprising journey to the Finals for the US from the very first heady days of victories over North Korea and Colombia followed by the blow struck by Sweden on the final day of group stage matches. However, the US regrouped and managed to win over Brazil in the quarterfinals, tying the game in OT despite being down one player for half the match and then finally winning on PKs 5-4.
A Dramatic Win over Brazil
Lastly, the US downed France in the semifinals to make it back to the final match.
Japan's road has been just as trying. They too suffered a group stage loss on the last day to England but came back stronger than ever, winning 1-0 over Germany, widely considered to be one of the favorites to win the tournament. Then, they clinically dismantled Sweden in the semifinals and now will face the US.
Japan will be led by Captain and playmaker, Homare Sawa
The US has won their past five meetings with Japan (and in fact, the overall record on Japan's part against the US is something like 0-23-1), but this is the World Cup Finals. All bets are off here and it should be a great game!
However, before we get to it... This post is going to be combination compilation of pictures, videos, and other fangirling and / or things I find funny combined with some thoughts on the Japan match going in.
First, watch and listen to this Women's World Cup Mood Reel. There's a fair amount of clips from previous WWC, but it's a good way to see some highlight on the top four teams as ranked by FIFA coming into this WWC (respectively, US, Germany, Brazil, Japan).
Second, the Nike Pressure Makes Us clip came out for Alex Morgan.
More after the jump...
Alex Morgan has been on the Studio 90 show a couple times now. The Studio 90 show has a fair amount of interviews with many of the USWNT members both on fun, light-hearted topics - Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe's segments are hilarious - and on more serious reflections on strategy so it's well worth watching in any case. Additionally, US Soccer posts up some interesting clips and interviews on their youtube page.
The first segment featuring Alex Morgan is after the France game and touches on Morgan's first goal in the WWC.
The second segment is just a fun one with Morgan setting the record straight on several things, touching upon her competitiveness (very high) and her nickname, including an adorable segment on her with her 'cousin,' a baby horse.
Adorable, as I said. However, what post would be complete without a picture of the team and other notables on it?
Picture of the Team
Abby Wambach: The "Beast in the Air"
Lauren Cheney: The Do Everything Girl. Assists? Yep, leading the team. Goals? Two of them. Starting Lauren Cheney was one of the best decisions of the tournament by Coach Sundhage.
You're in my way toward the goal.
Hope Solo: BOSS Goalkeeper. Also, best goalkeeper in the world.
Come and try me. I dare you.
And on a less serious note...
Han Hope Solo! In my imagination, every time Hope and Morgan are on the same field together, something like this exchange occurs: Han Hope Solo to Luke Skywalker Alex Morgan: You're all clear, kid. Now, let's blow this thing and go home!
Then, Alex would score a goal and the
Rebel Alliance US would go home in glorious victory.
Note that Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and Lauren Cheney are all on the final list of 12 players being considered for the Golden Ball award. In the Golden Shoe race, Marta (Brazil) and Sawa (Japan) currently top the rankings at 4 goals apiece and Wambach is close being at 3 goals.
As for the game itself...
Interestingly enough, Japan's players are almost all attacking midfielders. That is, for their club teams, they usually play AM. This is why most of them make good shots on goal, are creative and make good runs on offense, and are very comfortable with the ball at their feet. That being said, while their defenders and GK Kaihori have been playing exceptionally well, they are weak as a defense if someone can test them from the widths of the field and on the counter due to their playing style. HAO is going to need to play exceptionally well on attack and defense.
Japan basically runs a 4-4-2 although their style is such that on the attack, many of their players will move forward to gain local numerical superiority. They switch positions easily and make overlapping runs, taking care to support each other. Despite that, their finishing seems uncertain. I believe one of the ESPN commentators called it "lack of killer instinct." This is not really true, but it touches on the issue. If a defender contests their shot, Japan is more likely to break off the attack and pass back out to to try again to patiently break down a defense.
The US rode their defense here and they're going to have to ride it again because it doesn't seem that the US midfield is going to be able to hold onto the ball in comparison to the Japanese midfield. Expect to see a lot of Japan possession and tries on goal. If the US can defend together behind the ball and limit the Japan chances to optimistic tries from distance, they'll trust that GK Solo can handle it then go for the quick counter. This is going to be a bit more dicey than the France game because Japan's long range attacks are much more accurate than France's and Miyama, their midfielder, is possibly the best free kicker in the world.
If the US impose their will on the match, I think the game will look like a redux of the England-Japan game. If the US are sluggish and there are team break downs on defense, it'll look like the Sweden game (worst case: Canada).
England played very well in the Japan match and they did it with great team defending and great counters, spurred by Carney's beautiful crosses. US is going to have to do the same. They have to be disciplined on defense and not overrun the ball, making sure to stay between the ball and the goal and covering for each other. The Japanese are great at stopping on a dime and looking to pass or shoot so this is something to keep an eye out for.
Run with a purpose: the US will need to challenge - not foul, challenge - the Japanese midfielders and force them to run and pass faster, harder, and with less control. Teams cannot give the Japanese time to survey the field and pick their spots because that way lies the death of a thousand paper cuts. While the Japanese passes are accurate, they seem slow. There doesn't seem to be that much pace on the ball. If the US is willing to run the passing lanes diligently, it's possible to disrupt the attack. Sweden's goal occurred due to Sawa sending a ball back that had too little pace on it so that the Swedish forward could intercept it. In the Germany game, at least in the beginning, the Japanese were losing possession when pressured and possession switched back and forth regularly.
On the attack, the US will need to send balls down the flanks or even over the top. Force the Japanese LB, RB and CBs to run up and down the field for 90 minutes. Push them enough and they might have to just stay back in general on defense, leading to a break down in the Japanese fluidity on attack. ARod could be instrumental here and HAO has fast pace too. Then send crosses in toward Abby or win corners because Japan's a little short on defense and Abby will have her way at some point in the match.
So far, their lack of height hasn't been unduly punished, but I think the US will get their chances and hopefully, the US'll convert. I would LOVE it if the Japanese got into an endurance track meet with the US because I think the US team has the edge in fitness. They'll run and run and then run some more and see if someone can keep up with the US for the match. And then they'll bring on fresh legs and run even faster at the opponent.
I would also like to see some long range shots, hopefully on frame, at Kaihori. Sweden didn't really manage to test her in that way but England managed to win on a header and a beautiful volley over the GK. When your GK is short like Kaihori is, balls in the air are dangerous. I hope Carli Lloyd comes ready to play because I expect Pia will keep her in the starting line up. She needs to control and hold the ball better than the France match and it would be nice to see her take some 20-30 yard shots if open (not 30-40; the latter is overly optimistic, but the former is well within her range) to keep the goalkeeper wary.
Hopefully, it'll be a great game followed by a US win!
What are your thoughts on the match?