The United States will face Japan in the finals of 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup on Sunday. The game kicks off at 2:00 ET / 11:00 PT on ESPN with live online streaming available at ESPN3. The U.S. women's soccer team is seeking their third World Cup title and their first since 1999. Japan is making their first World Cup finals appearance and is 0-22-3 against Team USA.
Despite their head-to-head record, Japan is anything but a pushover for the U.S. team which seems to have a bit of destiny attached to its championship run. The Japanese upset the top seed and host, Germany, in decisive fashion and rolled 3-1 over a Swedish team that handed the United States their only loss of the tournament.
Resident soccer expert and WNBA star Diana Taurasi shared her thoughts on the game.
"You know, Japan looks good. Every time I say it's kind of a Cinderella story, but you know, they're a solid football team. They hold the ball well. They use space really well and they pressure the ball. I think at the end, U.S. is just too big and strong so they'll find a way to win."
Asked about the attention given the U.S. women's team, Taurasi smiled and used the same tone she uses when answering a question about the officials in game in which the calls didn't go her way.
"I think it's great. USA's always loved soccer."
There was some sarcasm in the answer but it's not entirely clear why. Perhaps there's a small bit of resentment for the lack of attention payed to Taurasi's many Team USA basketball victories in Olympic and FIBA World Championship play.
Taurasi's point about the U.S. physical advantage is certainly well within the mainstream of soccer analysis. Abby Wambach's two powerful header goals in the last two matches prove that and Hope Solo's play in goal and the U.S. fitness versus Brazil were undeniable factors.
Sports Illustrated's soccer guru, Grant Wahl, sees it a slightly different way.
Lauren Cheney and Megan Rapinoe may be key to U.S. title hopes - Grant Wahl - SI.com
[...] But if the Americans are going to beat a highly-skilled Japan in Sunday's final, the biggest game of their lives, they're going to need another standout performance from their two most creative players: midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Cheney.
Wahl argues that Megan Rapinoe should start at left mid, citing the impact she had off the bench in both the Brazil and France matches. Personally, I love her coming off the bench in a tie game or if the U.S. is down but she can be sloppy with the ball at times and waste possessions with her aggressiveness. Rapinoe is a weapon for sure, but the U.S. hasn't missed her in the starting lineup so it's not clear why coach Pia Sundhage would make that change now.
You could also make the case that Alex Morgan should start up top in place of Amy Rodriguez despite her youth. Morgan is clearly the future and is a highly talented goal-scorer, but in a match of this magnitude most coaches would understandably hesitate making a change like that.
Team USA will once again have the services of starting central defender Rachel Buehler who is back after serving her one-game suspension for the red card she received against Brazil. Becky Sauerbrunn played surprising well in her place against France but it's good to get Buehler back.
ASU's Amy LePeilbet will almost certainly remain in the starting lineup in her position on the left side of the back line. LePeilbet has played well, especially in the past few games.
Prediction: U.S. wins 2-0.