All due respect to indelible moments like Brandi Chastain’s 1999 strip of jubilation after her World Cup-winning penalty kick against China, but the U.S. women would like nothing better than an anticlimactic walkover on Sunday in the 2011 final against Japan.
A nerve-wracking quarterfinal win over Brazil and Wednesday’s energy-draining 3-1 semifinal win over France have provided ample drama for coach Pia Sundhage and her veteran team. Now, they just want to lock down the World Cup and trigger a sustained boost for American women’s soccer that never really happened after Mia Hamm and company won it all 12 years ago.
Here are three keys for hoisting the trophy in Frankfurt.
1. Dear Abby
Find Abby Wambach. The 31-year-old forward may have had a couple of frustrating games in the group stage, but she’s found her mojo again. Her tying goal seconds before the overtime whistle against Brazil allowed her team to win in the penalty shootout, and her header broke a tie against France. The Americans have no better a World Cup scorer than Wambach, whose 12 goals has tied Michelle Akers for the U.S. record.
2. Ball control
Midfielders Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly, and Carli Lloyd have to step up better and take some pressure off a defense that has come up big game after game. France controlled the ball 55 percent of the time, but was up to almost 70 percent before the U.S. dominated the final 10 minutes. Japan controlled Sweden 60 percent of the time. The U.S. is tired, physically and mentally, and another game of playing predominantly defense could have dire consequences.
3. Score early
A 2-0 first-half lead would all but clinch the title. Japan, though blessed with great technique, doesn’t have that one great goal-scoring threat. They get their goals opportunistically, making their opponents pay for mistakes and working hard to get inside the box. They have
almost no comeback ability, so getting them down early is a sure-fire way to beat the Japanese.