Women’s World Cup that started with a record 24 teams will end with the same two as four years ago, when Japan and the United States go head-to-head in Sunday’s final in Vancouver. While the rankings may say differently, it will be a meeting between the two dominant forces in the women’s game of recent times. Indeed, it will be the third consecutive major international tournament in which they have been the last two teams standing, with the U.S. having beaten Japan in the final of the 2012 Olympics.
While the victory in London was cause for much celebration for the Americans, it could not avenge the pain of defeat at what remains the world’s most prestigious tournament in women’s soccer. It is the World Cup title that the U.S. desperately craves.
That is especially true for Abby Wambach. The 35-year-old is playing in her fourth and final Women’s World Cup, having made her first appearance four years after the U.S. memorably lifted the trophy on home soil in 1999. But Wambach, the top scorer in the history of international soccer, has yet to taste the elation of victory in the tournament as a starter.
Four years ago she, along with the rest of the U.S., surely must have felt that a title was moments away. In the 2011 final, the U.S. had already been pegged back by Japan late in regulation time when Aya Miyama equalized Alex Morgan’s opening goal. Wambach put the Americans back in front just before the halfway point in extra-time, but there was to be another dramatic twist as player of the tournament, Homare Sawa, scored a goal that stunned the U.S. with three minutes left on the clock. Wamabch would then be the only American to score in the shootout, with Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd all missing as Japan claimed its first World Cup title.