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Sunday roundtable: Thoughts and predictions on the World Cup finals

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Keys for a United States win:

Convert chances: Throughout the World Cup, the United States has done a good job of creating scoring opportunities, but has failed to score many goals off of them. The team has averaged about 13 shots per game, but only managed to have 5 of those on target. If the U.S. can convert most of its chances it could end up scoring at least two or three goals, which would be an ideal amount.

Prevent counterattacks: If it doesn’t contain Japan, the U.S. could end up conceding several easy goals, something that could end up making a huge difference in a close game. One way to prevent counterattacks is to hold onto the ball by making the right passes. If the U.S. can do that, Japan will have trouble getting into open space.

Set pieces: The U.S. has to take what Japan gives. In this case, it is a favorable size advantage that could make a difference with free kicks and corners. If the U.S. doesn’t take advantage, Japan will scorch the team with its superior speed and quickness.

Get key players involved: Alex Morgan has been nonexistent this World Cup. Part of this could be due to the fact that Carli Lloyd has been put in more of an attacking role. Lloyd has been superb in that role, but Japan should be all over her after seeing scouting reports. That gives players like Alex Morgan, who have underperformed, a chance to make a real difference.

Keys for a Japan win:

Forcing mistakes: Japan relies on its quickness and speed, so if it can force turnovers and get on the counterattack, the team will be tough to stop. Counterattacks can often be momentum-shifting, so they are absolutely vital for Japan.

Possession: If Japan holds onto the ball, the team will be able to control the tempo of the game and at the same time keep a very dangerous U.S. attack at bay. Over the first six games of the World Cup, Japan has managed to concede only three goals by consistently winning the possession battle. A lack of possession, on the other hand, would make Japan extremely tired. Like the previous World Cup final, this game could end up being evenly matched and thus extend for a long time. In situations like that, fitness is absolutely vital, so Japan must make sure that it doesn’t get fatigued.

Confidence: It has been a rough World Cup for Japan, and the team hasn’t been in its best form. In fact, most would say that Japan is lucky to even be competing for the title. If it weren’t for a questionable penalty call and an unfortunate own goal it could have lost to England in the semifinal. Regardless, Japan must get back into good form if it wants a chance to win.

Spreading the wealth: Japan needs to get all of its players involved. Throughout the World Cup, a total team effort is what has gotten Japan to an undefeated record. In fact, seven Japanese players have scored a total of eight goals. Other than the brilliant Aya Miyama, there is no other star on the Japanese team. The team wins by getting everyone involved.

Players to watch:

Carli Lloyd (USA): She has arguably been one of the best players for the United States. She not only leads the team in scoring with three goals thus far in the competition, but is also an absolute rock in the midfield and controls that area of the pitch.

Aya Miyama (JPN): She was a difference-maker for the Japanese back in 2011 and she still is now in 2015. In fact, she leads the team in both goals and assists with two of each.

Prediction:

Even though Japan has advantages in both its technical ability and quickness, the United States has been on a roll after impressive wins against China and Germany. In both games the U.S. conceded no goals, as it shut down the opposition. If the U.S were to lose on Sunday, it would take a miraculous comeback like the one Japan constructed in the previous final. If that doesn’t happen, the U.S should win comfortably considering the team is playing with a lot at stake.
United States: 2     Japan: 1

Contact Aditya Krishnan at aditya.krishnan10 ‘at’ gmail.com.

Nearly four years ago, the Japanese national team pulled off one of the most improbable victories in Women’s World Cup history.

Trailing by a goal two different times during the match and with their chances of claiming the title evaporating by the second, the Japanese were able to eliminate U.S. leads and tie up the game both at the end of regulation and overtime. Finally, after a nerve-wracking shootout, the team was able to escape with the win. It was a monumental and well-fought victory for the Japanese, who were at the time trying to rebound from the treacherous tsunami and earthquake that shocked their nation a few months before.

But for the Americans, July 17, 2011 is a day that will forever haunt them. That is, unless they can bring back the cup on Sunday.

“It hurts to think about it and talk about it,” U.S. captain Carli Lloyd recently told USA Today. “There is nothing I want more than the chance to put it right.”

Leaving Vancouver with this win is not just important for the team’s morale, but for the country as a whole. The United States hasn’t been able to win a World Cup title since its historical run in 1999. Each time since, the team has been among the favorites, but has fallen short. And just when it seemed like 2011 would be its year, the United States’ hopes were crushed. The team has reached the same spot against the same team and once again has a chance at making history.

Veterans, including Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Lloyd, are trying to rewrite the script. Wambach has been through the most turmoil, failing to win a single World Cup in her three appearances so far. The loss to Japan seems to have been by far the worst for her. And it’s her last chance to avenge it.

“It’s been a constant reminder since July 17, 2011,” she told Newsday before Sunday’s match. “It’s been that thing that fuels our fire, that motivates us to do that extra sprint, to make that extra fight to extend and to search for that ball. It’s always there. That’s what happens with heartbreak. Heartbreak never goes away.”

This year, the United States came into the tournament ranked second in the world, just behind Germany, while the Japanese were ranked fourth. Like in 2011, the Japanese are again heavy underdogs, given only a 33 percent chance of victory according to WSPI, and have only beaten the United States once in the 31 matches between the two teams — that one time being the 2011 World Cup finals. But as witnessed four years ago, even the unthinkable is possible for Japan.

Yes, a United States vs. Germany matchup is what the soccer fans wanted, but a victory against Japan would mean so much more to the players and the country. And in a country where soccer is growing at a fast pace, a World Cup title may possibly ignite a soccer craze, or at least inspire young soccer athletes.

Japan deserved the victory last time around. But after 16 years of pain and misery, America rightfully deserves its third cup. Defeating Japan would be a true storybook ending.

Contact Pranav Iyer at brettfavre2000 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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