Japanese women could not realize their dreams of back-to-back victories in FIFA World Cup tournaments. They had won on penalties against USA in 2011 at Germany to emerge as a brand new champion against some odds. The two teams had played top-quality football in the 2011 final, where USA led twice but the Japanese fought back to level the match and forced penalties. Watched by millions of viewers, the feminine side of world’s most popular sport acquired a whole new level. On Sunday July 5, 2015 at Vancouver, Carli Lloyd scored a hat-trick to atone for her penalty-miss in 2011 and ensured that her team emerged as women’s World Cup champions for the third time in tournament’s history. More than 53,000 spectators came to see the Sunday’s final and most of them pitched for USA with Stars & Stripes flags. The last time USA won the World Cup was 16 years ago at Rose Bowl in Pasadena in California in 1999. The 90,000 people present at the stadium held their breath in hushed silence to the last act by Brandi Chastain, who scored the final goal in the penalty shoot-out against China and indulged in men-like celebrations by taking off her shirt. No such heroics have ever been in display in women’s football matches since then. The 2015 final was most notable for USA’s commanding superiority over Japan and it was highlighted by 33-year old Carli Lloyd’s superb hat-trick in America’s 5-2 victory with all 7 goals coming off from open field.
As the match began, USA made their intentions clear by launching a concerted attack on the Japanese goal. As early as the third minute, Megan Rapinoe’s low corner surprised the Japanese defenders, who probably expected a high ball. But Carli Lloyd got it near the penalty spot and drove home decisively to make it 1-0 for USA. Three minutes later, another low ball from Lauren Holiday’s free-kick evaded Japan’s defenders and traveled fatefully to where Lloyd was ready. Carli Lloyd didn’t have any problems as she scored again and USA went 2-0 up within the first five minutes. It also became a record that some player should score two fastest goals in Women’s World Cup Final history. Down by two goals so early, the Japanese women looked shaky in defense and in the 14th minute it showed, when central defender Azusa Iwashimizu could not prevent Tobin Heath’s ball, to which Holiday latched on. It was another easy goal for USA and they almost had the World Cup in their pockets. Carli Lloyd sealed Japan’s fate in the 16th minute from a dream-like goal that proved USA’s dominance in the most emphatic fashion. Lloyd collected the ball inside USA’s half and moved just a little ahead. From the halfway line, Lloyd unleashed a floater over the head of Japan’s goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, who could only touch it with her finger tips as the ball rolled over into the goal.
With USA taking a 4-0 lead in 16 minutes, the World Cup was firmly in their grasp with a signature 13-minute hat-trick from the amazing Carli Lloyd. As a matter of fact, Lloyd came close to scoring her fourth goal but her header went inches wide of the side post. Japan pulled one back in the 27th minute by an inspired finish from Yuki Ogimi, who spun away from her marker Julie Johnston and drove through the goal. Ogimi thus ended Hope Solo’s unbeaten streak of not conceding any goals for 540 minutes. Three minutes later, in another Japanese attack, it looked like they would cut the deficit further but Aya Miyama was stuck in the defense and her shot failed to trouble Solo. Japan’s coach Norio Sasaki took heavy risks in making two substitutions within 40 minutes and brought Homare Sawa and Yuika Sugasawa, in place of defender Iwashimizu and Nahomi Kawasumi. The teams went to break with USA leading 4-1.
Seven minutes into second half, Japan reduced the deficit in the most unexpected way. Japan won a free kick and Miyama’s incredible high ball was inadvertently diverted into her own goal by Julie Johnston. But USA’s three-goal margin was restored in the 54th minute by a goal from Tobin Heath, who scored from close range after Morgan Brian provided the assist. In the remaining time, USA almost scored their sixth goal but Morgan’s stinging shot went narrowly wide.
As the match ended in US glory, the players cried, hugged each other and cried more. Japanese women cried too but for an altogether different reason. Then Wambach took an American flag from someone in the crowd wrapped herself in it. They danced all over and around the beaming Carli Lloyd, who also picked up the silver boot. Hope Solo won the golden glove for keeper of the tournament. It was a great day for American football with greetings coming from as high as President Obama and his deputy Biden.
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