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USA vs. Japan for Women's World Cup title

USA midfielder Megan Rapinoe (L) takes part in

USA midfielder Megan Rapinoe (L) takes part in a training session at the BC Place stadium in Vancouver on July 4, 2015 on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match USA vs Japan. Credit: Getty Images / FRANCK FIFE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Sunday night marks the end of Team USA's drive to win the Women's World Cup.

When referee Kateryna Monzul sounds the final whistle at B.C. Place, the Americans hope they won't feel like it's the end of the world, as it was four years ago.

After toiling in six hard-fought games and surrendering one goal in this World Cup, Team USA takes on defending champion Japan in a rematch of the 2011 final.

The Americans don't want a rerun of that outcome, when they twice surrendered leads and suffered a devastating shootout loss. The happy ending Sunday night would see them become the first team to win three World Cups and capture their first title since 1999.

"In 2011, I felt like the stars were aligning," USA striker Abby Wambach said. "But guess what? The stars can blow up at any moment for us."

A partisan USA crowd is expected, along with several dignitaries, including Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, and Motoyuki Fujii, Japan's minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology.

"The team is a source of pride and unity, and we can't wait to see them represent the United States on the world stage," the Bidens said in a statement. "Let's cheer the team on and bring the World Cup trophy home."

The Americans enter the match on a high. They've improved in each game, culminating in a 2-0 dominating triumph over top-ranked Germany in the semifinals.

"We have really good confidence within our group," said midfielder Carli Lloyd, who has scored in three successive matches. "But we need to raise our game as well. This is the final. This is where you put everything on the line. There's no holding back, no reserving energy. It's full throttle. We'll be ready to go."

So will Japan, which features captain and star midfielder Aya Miyama, who sets the tempo.

"We don't overlook Japan for one second because they're very, very organized and a good team," Wambach said. "The best team will be left standing on Sunday night and of course, we hope it's us."

Japan is considered to be a superior technical team.

"They recognize their strengths and they play to their strengths in terms of trying to pull you apart and break you down," USA coach Jill Ellis said.

It wouldn't be surprising if Ellis deploys the same starting 11 as in the 2-0 semifinal win over Germany. That would include Alex Morgan as the lone striker, three central midfielders in Lauren Holiday, Morgan Brian and Lloyd, the latter essentially a withdrawn forward. Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath will be on the left and right flanks, respectively.

And that would exclude Abby Wambach, the Americans' all-time leading scorer playing in her final World Cup. The 35-year-old started the Germany game on the bench and was subbed in late in the second half.

Brian, who clashed heads with Germany's Alexandra Popp, practiced Friday.

"She's been great," Ellis said. "Trained 100 percent. The medical staff has done their job and their diligence. She looked good in training."

This competition has matured and now Ellis' coaching and lineup decisions have been under scrutiny by the media, not unlike USA men's coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Asked if she felt vindication for reaching the final, Ellis asked that the question be repeated.

"The last part? I'm sorry. I was thinking my mom didn't criticize me," she said. "Honestly, it doesn't faze me. Any time you get the opportunity in any walk of life to stand in front and be in a leadership role, you have to be prepared.

"As a coach you have to have that resolve. You have to commit to what you believe in. This is a seven-game tournament. You have to deal with a lot of different things and it's not going to be perfect."

The USA, however, can put together a perfect ending to the tournament Sunday night.

New York Sports