VANCOUVER, British Columbia - If there were any doubts about this American team being deserving of a women's World Cup championship, they were laid to rest well before halftime Sunday night.
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.
Carli Lloyd led the charge with a performance for the ages behind a 13-minute hat trick in the opening half. The Americans broke a 16-year drought and became the first team to win three World Cups.
"Pinch me, wake me up," USA coach Jill Ellis said. "We talked about starting fast. That was one of our mantras: start fast, finish strong."
By the time Lloyd had secured her three goals, the USA enjoyed a 4-0 lead against the Japanese, who had allowed only three goals in their previous six games.
Not surprisingly, Lloyd was named winner of the Golden Ball Award as the Most Valuable Player and received the Silver Boot Award, finishing second to Germany's Celia Saskic for the tournament goal-scoring lead, although both were tied with six goals apiece.
In the 2011 World Cup final, Japan beat the USA in penalty kicks. Asked what was the difference in the American side this time, Japan coach Norio Sasaki said: "Their attack, their defense, especially the defense. They were very meticulous in the set pieces. We really should have challenged them more closely. We could have given more trouble to the U.S. if we had worked harder in the beginning."
Hope Solo received the Golden Glove Award as the most outstanding goalkeeper.
The match was over before it actually got started as Lloyd struck for two goals in the opening five minutes. First, she converted a Megan Rapinoe free kick through traffic from 8 yards in the third minute, flicking the ball past goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.
Barely two minutes later, the Delran, New Jersey, native and her teammates were celebrating again. Lauren Holiday sent in a free kick from the right side that Julie Johnston got a foot on. Lloyd found some room between defenders Azusa Iwashimzu and Saki Kumagai from point-blank range and deposited the ball into the net for a two-goal advantage.
Holiday interrupted Lloyd's brilliant performance with a goal of her own, due to a defensive blunder. Tobin Heath sent a long ball from the right side into the middle that Iwashimzu misplayed. Holiday took advantage and drilled a 9-yard shot for a 3-0 lead in the 14th minute.
Lloyd completed her hat trick in spectacular fashion. Taking a pass from Holiday at midfield, Lloyd noticed that Kaihori was standing too far out of the net and audaciously booted a long shot from 55 yards that the goalkeeper got her right hand on. The ball found its way into the lower left corner for a 4-0 lead in the 16th minute.
Japan got one back in the 27th minute when Yuki Ogimi ripped a shot from the top of the penalty area past Solo. The goal snapped the Americans' shutout streak at 540 minutes, tying it with Germany for the longest shutout streak in World Cup history.
Japan continued to push up in the second half. A 40-yard ball from the left side was sent into the penalty area and Johnston headed it into her own goal as the Americans' lead was cut to 4-2 in the 52nd minute.
The three-goal margin was restored only two minutes later when Heath slotted home a short pass from Morgan Brian.