VANCOUVER • The Women's World Cup began uncertainly for midfielder Carli Lloyd. It quickly built towards predatory dependability, then concluded on Sunday in a display of startling deliverance.
The United States midfielder scored the quickest goal in a Women's World Cup final.
She then became the first footballer to score a hat-trick in the final, as the US pummelled Japan 5-2 to become the first country to win the tournament three times.
All Lloyd's goals came in the first 16 minutes as the US built a stunning 4-0 lead before 53,341 fans at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
The crowd included US Vice-President Joe Biden.
While Japan briefly threatened a comeback at 4-2, the Americans celebrated their redemption, after losing to Japan in a penalty shoot-out in the 2011 final.
About two minutes after that quick first goal from a well-worked corner, Lloyd ran onto a back-heel pass from Julie Johnston after a free kick and placed a shot between the legs of a Japanese defender.
Those two early goals threw their opponents into disarray. Japan forward Yuki Ogimi said: "They tried new things and set plays that we hadn't seen before in the tournament, and we didn't handle it well."
And in the 16th minute, in an act of great audacity and accuracy, the 32-year-old launched a shot from midfield. Ayumi Kaihori, the Japanese goalkeeper, was caught off her line. She could only reach futilely with her right hand as the ball deflected off the left post into the net, giving the US the 4-0 lead.
"When you're feeling good mentally and physically, those plays are just instincts," Lloyd said.
"It just happens."
Norio Sasaki, Japan's coach, quickly got a sinking feeling as his highly-organised team was left in tatters. He had seen this before.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Lloyd scored both US goals against Japan in a 2-1 victory in the final.
"She always does this to us," Sasaki said. "We are a bit embarrassed.
"She is an excellent player.
"I really respect and admire her."
As the World Cup began, though, Lloyd had faced critical remarks from former US coach Pia Sundhage that she is ineffective playing a more defensive role in midfield.
But coach Jill Ellis changed her tactics in the knockout rounds, and Lloyd pushed into the attack with freedom and inventiveness.
With six goals scored, Lloyd netted another honour when she was awarded the Golden Ball as the event's most outstanding player.
Sunday's win provided a valedictory moment for Abby Wambach, 35, who is international soccer's leading career scorer with 183 goals but had never won a World Cup.
She accepted a lesser role as the tournament progressed, as Lloyd became more productive.
Lloyd paid tribute to her selflessness when she gave Wambach the captain's armband when she came on as a substitute in the last 10 minutes of the final.
"I wanted her to put the armband on because she's done so much for our team. It's her last World Cup and she's a legend," she said.
Yet, for someone who prepares herself by visualising herself scoring four times in a World Cup final, Lloyd has written the decisive chapter in her slow and steady career.
She was 16 years old when she saw the US win their last title.
"When I watched the '99 team play, I never thought I would be part of something like that, part of a World Cup team," she said.
"They were the pioneers, now it's our turn to keep the tradition going and, in four years' time, we want to be world champions again."
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE