The U.S. Women’s National Team gave Americans an excuse to celebrate the Fourth of July for an extra day Sunday when it routed Japan, 5-2, to win the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Within minutes of the opening whistle, it became clear that this was going to be the United States’ day. In the third minute, Carli Lloyd scored off a corner kick to put Team USA up early and shock the Japanese team and its fans. Lloyd, who recorded a hat trick to give her six goals on the tournament, tacked on yet another goal in the fifth minute, this time connecting off a free kick.
Lloyd’s goals were indicative of a common trend throughout the match: the United States’ domination of Japan on set pieces. Japan was aware that its players all seemed to be a couple inches shorter than their U.S. counterparts. This played a big role in set pieces because the Japanese strategy was clearly to sell out on ensuring that the Americans, who are talented in the air, wouldn’t be able to score off headers. Thus, the U.S. players received easy opportunities on balls delivered to them on the ground, and they narrowly missed piling on a couple more goals this way throughout the match.
It became obvious that things were going to go the Americans’ way in this match when Lloyd capped off her hat trick in the 16th minute by scoring from midfield when she picked up her head and noticed that Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaiori had strayed too far from her line. Kaiori sprinted back, but she slipped and was able to get only a finger on the ball as it fell comfortably into the goal, putting the United States up, 4-0.
This was nowhere near Japan’s only low point in the match, however, as its players kicked off the match playing uncharacteristically sloppily. The Japanese team had proven to be technically sound throughout the tournament, and the players’ most notable strength was their ability to maintain possession with crisp passes. That was nowhere to be seen early in the match. Instead, as the match progressed, the Americans built a 4-0 lead and held a substantial early advantage in possession.
The Japanese team, however, didn’t give up, which it could have easily done. Japan managed to put a couple of goals on the scoreboard, including one on a 52nd-minute own goal by Julie Johnston, to make it 4-2. But it was not going to be that easy for the Japanese to get back into the game. Instead, the United States scored again in the 54th minute, this time in the right goal, and ensured that the game would remain out of reach, 5-2.
The fervor at the beginning of the match, along with the fact that the Americans were unwilling to let up until the very end, shows how important this match was for Team USA. The win makes it three World Cups for the United States — the most of any country. More importantly, it means the U.S. players can finally move past their narrow loss to Japan in the finals of the 2011 World Cup. That loss had been the Americans’ driving force throughout the 2015 tournament, and it proved to be enough to help them end their 16-year World Cup drought.