Women's World Cup: USA v Japan pre-match analysis

By Jessica CreightonBBC Sport
Abby Wambach
US midfielder Abby Wambach (left) scored a vital header against France

The United States may be the top-ranked team on the planet but they have not won the World Cup since 1999.

Could that be about to change? Well, they have played Japan three times this year and won on every occasion.

That said, the Japanese, who will be playing in their first World Cup final, have captured the heart of football fans around the globe with their fearless approach and technical ability.

Norio Sasaki's side began with convincing wins against New Zealand and Mexico before losing to England in Group B.

In the quarter-finals, the Nadeshiko recorded a 1-0 extra-time win over hosts and World Cup holders Germany before coming from a goal down to beat Sweden 3-1 in the last four.

The US emerged from Group C despite losing to Sweden after wins over North Korea and Colombia.

In the last eight, Pia Sundhage's team overcame Brazil in a penalty shoot-out after Abby Wambachexternal-link headed an equaliser in the dying seconds of extra time, before two late goals gave them a 3-1 win over France in the semi-finals.

So, as the US and Japan prepare to face each other in Sunday's final in Frankfurt, who are the players to look out for?

Captain Homare Sawaexternal-link is Japan's top goalscorer in the competition after netting four times and will be a big threat.

The 32-year-old midfielder, enjoying her fifth World Cup, is an integral part of the team and notched a hat-trick in the group game against Mexico.

Sawa, regarded as Japan's finest female footballer, made her international debut at the age of 15, scoring four goals in a win over the Philippines.

As Japan's most capped player with 171 appearances, Sawa, who stands just 5ft 5in tall, often dictates play from the middle of the park.

Sawa celebrates a goal against Sweden
Sawa scores against Sweden

"Sawa is a world class player," says US player Heather O'Reilly. "She has played in the WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) league in the US, so we're very familiar with her and have a lot of respect for her."

It is not just Sawa who the Americans are concerned about. They are also wary of 5ft 2in midfielder Aya Miyama, 26.

"Her free-kicks are deadly," says O'Reilly. "We're very aware of giving away too many free kicks in the defensive third because Japan are so precise and calculated."

What about the US? Well, Wambach, 31, is one of the stars of the tournament and has bagged more than 100 goals for her country.

The midfielder, who scored the goal that secured gold for the US at the 2004 Olympics, has found the net three times and could cause all manner of problems for Japan with her aerial prowess.

"Abby is scoring some huge goals with her head, so we want to utilise that against Japan," says O'Reilly.

"We believe in the power of our attack and have a height advantage so are better in the air then them. If our attack stays dynamic, we can finish some chances against them."

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