U.S. women set sights on third World Cup title

The U.S. Women’s soccer team is in search of a third World Cup title against long-time adversary Japan, with Sunday’s match airing live from Vancouver on FOX at 4 p.m.

Seeking redemption from World Cups past, the U.S. women look to repeat their 2012 Olympic games gold medal in London against Japan and move past their 2011 World Cup loss to the same opponent, in which the Americans lost in a penalty shootout.

The two countries have faced each other only once since the Olympic gold medal match in 2012, resulting in a 1-1 draw in an international friendly in March of 2014. Before London, the U.S.’s record had been Japan is 1-1-1.

With little competition matches between the two, a statistical pinpoint of who the better half may be is difficult, but the U.S. will need to be wary of Japan’s discipline on the ball and suffocating technical skill. More than half of Japan’s goals have come before the thirty-minute mark, and one-third before 15 minutes of this World Cup. One-third of their goals have also come within the last 15 minutes of the match.

No. 4 ranked Japan — who has never been ranked outside the Top 5 in FIFA ranking in the last five years — won the 2011 World Cup tournament along with an extensive list of others: EAFF Women’s Football Championship (2010), an Asian Games title (2010), and an AFC Asian Cup title (2014). Coming into this year’s World Cup, Japan has not conceded a loss since March and have won nine straight matches.

Midfielder Aya Miyama is Japan’s biggest playmaker and deadliest weapon, as her speed intertwines with footwork that puts many a defender to shame. Though she’s only put two goals on the board this tournament, Miyama is considered by many the greatest women’s soccer athlete and is in running to win the Golden Ball Award, handed out by FIFA to the best player of the tournament.

At Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the U.S. is a -120 favorite over Japan, while the defending champs are offered at 7-to-2 odds (+350) and a draw is listed at 5-to-2 odds (+250). But the American women are thirsty for this win, to close out Independence weekend with a World Cup title and trophy to bring back to the states.

A win in Sunday afternoon’s final match will be the icing on the cake — a birthday cake — for American midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who turned 30 Sunday morning.

A win would also be a bittersweet goodbye to members of the squad such as forward Abby Wambach and midfielder Shannon Boxx, who are set to retire from international play and start fresh adventures off the field. Sunday’s match will be the last opportunity for their dedication to the team to pay off, an opportunity that Wambach doesn’t want to miss, telling FIFA.com:

“You can have all the titles from all the championships you want, but none of them matter as much as the World Cup.”