Spicy treat to round off feast

Shonobu Ohno (centre) and her Japan team-mates (from left) Saori Ariyoshi, Rumi Utsugi and Nahomi Kawasumi warming up at training during the Women's World Cup in Vancouver. Forward Ohno is central to Japan's fluid attacking play that places an emphas
Shonobu Ohno (centre) and her Japan team-mates (from left) Saori Ariyoshi, Rumi Utsugi and Nahomi Kawasumi warming up at training during the Women's World Cup in Vancouver. Forward Ohno is central to Japan's fluid attacking play that places an emphasis on passing and possession.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Japan-US final caps Women's World Cup that has achieved high TV ratings, arena turnouts

VANCOUVER • The United States are battle-hardened and seeking revenge while Japan are determined to retain the trophy they denied the Americans four years ago.

It all adds up to a spicy finale to the Women's World Cup tonight, a tournament that began under the shadow of the Fifa corruption scandal, but ends with an intriguing contest that is set to cap off a month of record-smashing television ratings and attendance figures.

"In 2011, both teams had a wonderful game in the final and, for women's football, I hope that we will have a wonderful game like the way we did then," said the Japan coach Norio Sasaki.

A capacity crowd of over 50,000 is expected to fill BC Place in Vancouver, and most of the fans will be flag-waving, face-painted Americans who have poured across the Canadian border to support their team, who start as firm favourites with the bookmakers.

  • JAPAN

  • Qualification: Asian Cup winners 2014

    Previous appearances: 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011.

    Best World Cup finish: Champions 2011.

    Honours: World Cup champions 2011; Asian champions 2014, runners-up 1986, 1991, 1995, 2001; Olympic silver medal 2012.

    Head coach: Norio Sasaki

    Fifa ranking: 4th

    Road to final
    Group stage: Japan 1 Switzerland 0, Japan 2 Cameroon 1, Japan 1 Ecuador 0.
    Last 16: Japan 2 Netherlands 1.
    Q-finals: Japan 1 Australia 0. S-finals: Japan 2 England 1.

  • UNITED STATES

  • Qualification: Concacaf champions 2014

    Previous appearances: 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011.

    Best World Cup finish: Champions 1991, 1999.

    Honours: World Cup winners 1991, 1999; Olympic champions 1996, 2004, 2008, 2012; Concacaf champions 1991, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2014.

    Head coach: Jillian Ellis

    Fifa Ranking: 2nd

    Road to final
    Group stage: USA 3 Australia 1, USA 0 Sweden 0, USA 1 Nigeria 0.
    Last 16: USA 2 Colombia 0. Q-finals: USA 1 China 0.
    S-finals: USA 2 Germany 0.

And while the US and Japan may be familiar foes, that does not make the final any less of a tactical conundrum for both the teams.

Japan, the defending world and Asian champions, play a clever, short-passing, possession game, while the Americans rely more on their athleticism, individual flair and power in the final third.

Japan's style has clearly been influenced by the successful "tiki-taka" approach of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team but has evolved in recent years with Sasaki mixing in a more direct element.

Likewise, US coach Jillian Ellis has eased the team away from an extensive use of the long ball with a more fluid style, particularly since the decision to place record scorer and classic target striker Abby Wambach on the bench.

Against Germany in the semi-final, midfielder Carli Lloyd was given a more attacking role, supporting lone striker Alex Morgan.

The approach worked well, with Lloyd scoring one goal and creating the other in a 2-0 win.

The Americans will nevertheless have to be prepared to cover a lot of ground to press the mobile Japanese, although there are concerns that by doing so, they would tire out in the latter part of the game.

Said midfielder Megan Rapinoe: "It is about finding a balance, you can't just chase with your head cut off, they are way too good for that.

"But they are also too good to just sit off and not go on them."

Japan's fluid approach revolves around their forward Shinobu Ohno while wide players Aya Miyami and Nahomi Kawasumi will cut in to central positions.

Defender Saki Kumagai said: "The most important thing is that we do not concede a goal in the first half, that is the key.

"Compared to four years ago, ago all our team members have matured. It will be a game where all of us will show how we have grown and developed our skills."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2015, with the headline 'SPICY TREAT TO ROUND OFF FEAST'. Print Edition | Subscribe