Women's World Cup: U.S. and Japan tied at halftime of final, 0-0
Time and again in the first 45 minutes the Amercians created opportunities to take the lead, but each time they failed with the final shot.
The Japanese, playing in their first final, gradually began asserting themselves in the match, but were not as dangerous as they had been in defeating Germany and Sweden in their quarterfinal and semifinal games, respectively.
The first 15 minutes of the championship match belonged to the U.S., which created four clear scoring chances.
In the ninth minute, Lauren Cheney was just wide left with a shot off a pass from Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach lashed a shot just over the Japanese crossbar.
Two minutes later, Carli Lloyd followed suit with a shot that was just high and second later Rapinoe steered a cross from Heather O’Reilly wide right.
A breakthrough goal appeared imminent, even more so after Rapinoe hit the outside of the left post with a shot and Wambach, in the 38th minute, drove a shot against the crossbar.
Japan’s lone scoring chance of the half came when Kozue Ando got behind the American defense on the left, but her shot was easily cradled by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo at the near post.
Pia Sundhage, the U.S. coach, made one surprise change in her starting lineup, dropping former USC forward Amy Rodriguez to the bench and including winger Rapinoe in her starting 11.
Rapinoe has provided a threat coming off the bench, especially in the delivery of crosses to striker Wambach.
The teams fared almost identically in the lead-up to Sunday’s final. Both finished second in their first-round groups, both needed extra time to get through their quarterfinals, and both won their semifinals by the same 3-1 score.
But there was one huge difference: The teams have played each other 25 times before, and the U.S. holds an overwhelming 22-0-3 record in the series.
For the Japanese players, the focus was on maintaining their good form.
“We need to go into the match with a sense of momentum and without fear of making mistakes,” Japan’s coach, Norio Sasaki, told FIFA.com before the game.
For Sundhage, meanwhile, it was more a matter of keeping her players loose but focused.
“We’ll show them an inspirational video featuring the best things the girls have done, some of the best goals, and a few funny things to make them laugh,” she told FIFA.com.
-- Grahame L. Jones
U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd, left, tries to keep the ball away from Japan’s Homare Sawa during the first half of Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final. Credit: Alex Domanski / Reuters