It is hard to be a good winner. The US women demonstrated that they had what it takes to be an open and understanding group in celebrating their World Cup victory. There were over 50,000 people watching in the stands in Vancouver and almost 26,700,000 watching on US television (25.4 M on Fox, 1.3 M on Telemundo), most of whom were solidly supporting the US team. Most were very happy at the win.
The saga of how these two teams made it to the World Cup finals has been told over and over again: How these two teams met in the last World Cup playoffs in 2011. How the relatively inexperienced US women lost to Japan on an “own” goal. How this match was to be their redemption.
The US team started the game presssing an attack. It was a strategy which could have backfired since it meant playing too far forward to guard well against a counterattack. But the USA’s control of the ball was sufficient to keep that eventuality from developing.
Pressing the attack worked beyond all reasonable expectations. Just a few minutes into the game, a well executed play put the ball into the opponet’s net. Games in world football are usually low-scoring, and this gave the US team a very favorable position in the match.
In a gamble as risky as the initial decision to press the attack, the US Women continued to carry the play into Japan’s territory. Again the strategy paid off. A second goal was scored which put the US team in a dominate position. The US Women could now play a more conservative game and protect their lead.
But they didn’t. Once again they charged downfield. Once again they kept control of the ball. And once again the strategy and play produced a goal. The US team could now concentrate on defense, preserving what was almost certainly a commanding lead.
Several times the Japanese Women carried the play into the US zone. On one of those attacks, the ball was kicked back to a US teammate, Carli Lloyd, who had one defense player and the goaltender in front. Her options were few, try to dribble the ball downfield and get a shot off or wait until teammates got into position, kick the ball back to a teammate for an organized attack, or take a long shot.
A distance shot arced toward the Japanese goal. Whether the Japanese goaltender was in position or not will likely be a topic of discussion among world football fans for years to come. She did get enough of the ball to deflect it – but not enough to keep it out of the goal. Lloyd had a hat trick.
The rest of the game was uneventful compared to the feat of one team scoring four unanswered goals in the first sixteen minutes. The eventual score was 5 – 2 in favor of the US women. A wondrous championship in the sport which is most recognized as any around the world.
But there was a second victory that came out of that match. Many teams, no matter how much experience and training they had accumulated, would have felt defeated after being down 4 – 0 so quickly. But the Japanese women kicked into gear. The rest of the game was pretty even, although over that duration the Japanese scored two goals to one for the US.
Imagine that you have reached the penultimate step to your ideal. During the first few minutes of this step, you experience not one, not two, not three, but four setbacks. Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Would you, or me, or anyone, be able to pick themselves up and continue the effort to get to their ideal?
The Japanese women in the 2015 World Cup championship did. At the end they displayed the emotions that they had played through – the same emotions that had run the gauntlet of the US team four years earlier. As hard as it is to be a winner, it is even harder to be a loser. But the Japanese lost only in terms of the score. They certainly did not lose otherwise.
So, hat’s off to the US team and a significant statement that they are currently the world champions. They represented themselves and the United States well and deserve all the accolades we can give them. Likewise, hat’s off to the Japanese team and a significant statement that they belong in the championship game. They represented themselves and Japan well and deserve all the accolades we can give them.
And because of these two victories, the world is a little smaller and friendlier than it was.
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