It's United States vs. Japan In The Women's World Cup Gold Medal Match

VANCOUVER - Japanese head coach Norio Sasaki had a feeling he would see the United States again.

The countries have taken part in some of the most memorable matches in women's soccer over the last half decade, and Sasaki says it's only fitting the teams will meet in Sunday's World Cup final.

"I really am grateful for this opportunity," Sasaki said through a translator on Saturday. "I feel a sort of fate because we always play in the final against the U.S."

Japan beat the U.S. for the 2011 title on penalty kicks just four months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami ravaged the country. In the leadup to the tournament, the nations played two friendlies, something that Sasaki said helped his players develop.

"At that time we were not at a high level yet," he said. "When we were in a very tough situation, the U.S. really helped us by playing us. That way we were able to grow. We learned a lot of things from the games we played against the United States."

The Americans got a measure of revenge by beating Japan in the gold-medal match at the London Olympics the following year, but what they really want is another World Cup title to go along with the 1999 triumph on home soil.

"We're excited. It's going to be a tremendous match," said U.S. head coach Jill Ellis. "We feel like we have a good preparation, and in our preparation we have confidence and are just excited to get this things started."

Sasaki said Sunday's final in front of what is sure to be a partisan American crowd at B.C. Place Stadium will be a contrast in styles.

"The strength of the U.S. team is the power and also the organized way of playing. The structure and the strong desire to win. They are highly motivated," he said. "We don't have as much power, but we have the skills, techniques and a network amongst the players.

"Probably there will be more supporters cheering on the U.S. in the stadium, but I think our team can convert that into their own power."

Japan — which beat England 2-1 in the semifinals — has made a habit of scoring early in matches at the World Cup, a trend captain Aya Miyama hopes to continue.

"I just have the image of winning in my mind," she said. "What's important is to score first. Through the tournament we have been scoring first through most of the matches and I hope that we can also create our own rhythm."

That might be easier said than done. The Americans haven't allowed a goal in more than 500 minutes and seem to be peaking at the right time, including a 2-0 victory over Germany in the semifinals, after a couple of uninspired results early in the competition.

"Internally, in our group, we always knew what we had inside of us," said Ellis. "I always say it's like looking at an iceberg. You guys see the top 10 per cent of the iceberg and we've got 90 per cent under the water. We know what we're capable of, we know what we have in us.

"I said from the beginning our best game was ahead of us."

Notes: Sunday's match will be the final World Cup outing for two legends of the women's game — Abby Wambach of the U.S. and Homare Sawa of Japan. ... Japan's Kozue Ando, who broke her ankle in her country's opening match, was sent home to recuperate, but will be back to cheer on her teammates in the final.


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