VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Any doubts about this American team deserving to be Women's World Cup champions were laid to rest well before halftime Sunday.
Putting on one of the most brilliant displays in a final, the United States registered a stunning 5-2 triumph over defending champion Japan to secure its third world championship and first since 1999.
With Lloyd leading the charge with a virtuoso performance of a 13-minute hat trick in the opening half, the Americans broke a 16-year drought as they became the first team to win three World Cups.VoteVote: Which U.S. women's soccer team was better?
By the time Lloyd had secured her hat trick, the United States enjoyed a 4-0 lead against Japan, which had allowed only three goals in their previous six games.
The performance left U.S. coach Jill Ellis stunned.
"Did I envision winning? Yes," she said. "Did I envision lifting a trophy with five goals? That was a dream come true."
Quite fittingly, Lloyd was the first to receive her winner's medal, after she was announced as the Golden Ball winner as the MVP and the Silver Boot winner.
"I felt like I was in a dream sitting there on the bench watching Carli Lloyd go off," Abby Wambach said.
The last two players to receive their medals were among the team's senior citizens playing in their final World Cup -- the 35-year-old Wambach, who made this a crusade to complete her career with that elusive world championship, and Christie Rampone, the remaining member of the 1999 championship team who participated in her fifth World Cup.
The match was just about over before it got going as Lloyd struck two goals in the opening five minutes. She converted Megan Rapinoe's corner kick from 8 yards in the third minute for the fastest goal in final history, then beat goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori from point-blank range.
"Pinch me, wake me up," Ellis said. "We talked about starting fast. That was one of our mantras: start fast, finish strong."
A half-hour afterward, Lloyd still could not believe what she had accomplished.
"I don't think it's entirely sunk in," she said. "I'm so proud and so zapped at the same time. It is surreal. We just wrote history today, bringing the World Cup home."
Lauren Holiday interrupted Lloyd's showcase performance with her first goal of the tournament, taking advantage of an Azusa Iwashimizu blunder in the 14th minute before Lloyd completed her hat trick in spectacular fashion. Noticing that Kaihori was standing too far out of the net, Lloyd audaciously booted a long shot from 55 yards that sailed off and over the goalkeeper's right hand.
"If you're feeling good mentally and physically, it comes down to instinct," Lloyd said.
Japan tried to make it interesting as Yuki Ogimi scored from the top of the box in the 27th minute, breaking the Americans' shutout streak at 540 minutes. U.S. defender Julie Johnston accidentally headed a long ball into her own net past Hope Solo, who was named the tournament's outstanding goalkeeper.
Tobin Heath restored the three-goal margin with a close-range attempt two minutes later.
Although the Americans got off to a slow start in this tournament, their play in the final was more impressive than the past two championships. The 1991 side scored in the final two minutes to secure the title and the 1999 squad needed penalty kicks.
"They are an excellent team," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said.