After losing the 2011 World Cup final in heartbreaking fashion, Pia Sundhage's charges will have the chance to earn redemption in Thursday's gold medal game.Finally, after a year of waiting and five Olympic matches, the U.S. women's soccer team has what it was seeking: a second chance.
With the painful memory of last year's loss to Japan in the World Cup final still lingering, the USA has earned a rematch against the Japanese. This time, it's for Olympic gold.
“I think the fact that we lost the World Cup and the way that we did gives us even more passion and desire to go out and perform tomorrow,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said.
Not only did the USA fall to Japan in that World Cup match, but it did so in undeniably agonizing fashion, throwing away a lead twice in a match that ended 2-2. Japan would go on to secure the title in penalty kicks.
In an epic semifinal against Canada, the USA managed to reverse the trick it turned against Japan, coming back twice from one-goal deficits, before going one better and doing it three times. Alex Morgan scored the winner in extra time in a 4-3 classic.
“I think everyone was watching the game (against Canada) and we turned peoples’ heads and we made people pay attention to us in a positive way,” Morgan said.
After the heart-stopping Canada match, plenty more will be paying attention to the final, as over 83,000 tickets have been sold for the showpiece at Wembley Stadium. The match is set to break the Olympic women's soccer attendance record, which was set in the 1996 final in Atlanta between the USA and China.
The USA won that particular match – the first women's soccer final in Olympic history. It would go on to win silver in Sydney four years later, before securing the gold in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
For Japan, it will be battling a bit of history, as no women's team has ever won a World Cup title and Olympic gold medal in consecutive years. For the Asian side to make history, it will require a big performance from 33-year-old Homare Sawa, the current FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.
“I think that Homare Sawa has proven herself to be one of the best players in the world. She led her team to a world championship. I have the greatest respect for her,” Wambach said. “She came to play in the United States a couple of times and took what she learned back to her country and they’ve done an extraordinary job over the last couple of years putting it together.”
One of the USA's breakout stars of the tournament has been midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who has three goals in the competition, including two against Canada. The match between CONCACAF rivals was a contentious affair, but Rapinoe expects the final to be a different story.
"We definitely respect the way that they (Japan) play and they respect the way that we play. We just know that it’s going to be a good game,” Rapinoe said. “There is no animosity. They snatched our dream last year and still we have that respect for them.”
The final kicks off at 2:45 p.m. ET and will be broacast on NBC Sports Network.
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