The 2015 Women’s World Cup final has a familiar feel to it, but U.S. fans are hoping it is not deja vu all over again. With the Americans making a statement against No. 1 Germany and Japan benefiting from an own goal to advance, the momentum is with the USA. However, as we saw four years ago, championship games can throw us surprises.
With that in mind, here are the five key players that could determine the outcome of the Women’s World Cup final:
Likely this is the American legend’s last World Cup match and chances are she will not play all 90 (or even start). But she will play, and what she does in her time will probably determine her team’s chances, and her legacy. If the U.S. is ahead, her hold-up play and veteran poise will be important to push her team to the finish line. If the game is tied or the U.S. is trailing, she will be the focus of the crosses from the wings. Can she finish strong?
Lest we forget, Japan was the U.S.’s victim in their London Olympics victory, and the Japanese defensive midfielder did not play in that match. She will play in this final, however, and she will be a critical piece of Japan’s defense against Carli Lloyd and the U.S. forwards. She is also a critical piece of what will probably be Japan’s possession-dominating strategy, so she will be working hard this game on both ends.
The 23-year-old center-back has been a revelation this tournament, but her yellow card penalty against Germany was the first major slip-up. That slip-up could have been more critical to the U.S. chances. How she responds against a timely Japan team – a team that seems to like to score quickly and late – will be key to the U.S. defense. Her footwork needs to be good and, unlike in the semifinals, the grabbing needs to be kept to a minimum.
Japan’s keeper has had her gaffes and shaky moments in this tournament. She must be near perfect against the U.S. Despite the American’s inability to score for most of this tournament, gifting them chances in this match will doom her side. She needs to match Hope Solo and, if history repeats itself, to be ready for a penalty shoot-out to decide the match.
The midfielder was one of my players to watch against Germany, and the hero of the London Olympic finals makes this list again. As with the last match, she is the best midfielder on the field. She needs to be the scoring threat and set up her teammates. Lloyd’s new advanced position has been a huge boost to her numbers and that must continue.
Honorable mention: Aya Miyama – Japan’s leading scorer and the woman who scored the regular time goal against the U.S. in 2011 is always a threat and she may be her country’s best soccer player. She may play a role in this match, especially since she is the only player with multiple goals.