I'm not going to sit here and tell you guys when and how to watch soccer, but I really hope you all didn't just head out to the absinthe parlor after the US game to celebrate, because Japan put on a special clinic in the second game. Either Sweden didn't see so much as a frame of the Japan-Germany game film, or Japan is so skillful they can completely neutralize teams that are bigger and stronger.
Kate Markgraf said something like "Yes, but Japan hasn't faced anyone like Abby Wambach." Let's hope Pia Sundhage isn't so big an idiot as to make that her strategy on Sunday, because trying to out-muscle Japan has proven a sure-fire loser. They aren't infallible - the Sweden goal came on a remarkable bit of stupidity on Japan's part - but neither are the United States, to say the very very least. Japan has now comfortably, nearly effortlessly, taken apart the last two of the last three teams to beat the US. [EDIT - I'm being schooled in the comments for saying Japan beat Germany "effortlessly," and rightly so. Sorry, group.]
It was such a wonderful game to watch from both a strategic and a technical point of view - quite simply, this is how you shut a team down. Sweden should have had more than two shots on goal by pure accident - and one of those was the tenth-minute howler given to Oqvist.
Longtime WPS fans won't be surprised that Aya Miyama was named player of the match, and might end up...wait, yes, they will be surprised. Miyama was one of the unheralded extras in the Marta Show that ran for a few weeks in Los Angeles before closing, and didn't score a single goal.
Let's also hope that our coaching staff doesn't buy into the crap we're now being fed, primarily courtesy of ESPN, that the United States has any kind of intangible advantage as far as heart and loyalty and, God help us, "playing for their country." As if Brazil was playing for Western Samoa or something.
The United States might have been fitter, more disciplined, and more unified than Brazil, but that's a pretty empty honor right now. Japan looked like they could have played another forty-five minutes. After seventy minutes, Sweden didn't know a damned thing about a damned thing - poor Thomas Dennerby was just throwing in subs like extras lining up to get beaten up in "Walker: Texas Ranger."
You can even write off the United States considerable advantage in experience, because Sweden and Germany were pretty darned experienced, too, and Japan shoved a handful of dust in their mouths.
As far as coaching - well, I'm not going to sit here and second-guess Pia Sundhage for getting to the final, I'm really not. I'm going to sit here and second-guess her continually starting Amy Surplus. There are probably lots of fantastic reasons to keep Alex Morgan limited to less than forty-five minutes and to burn off a sub every single game getting Rodriguez off the field before she hurts herself - I just can't see any, is the thing.
Yes, the United States has won twenty-three out of twenty-five against Japan, and drew the other two. Don't see no Michelle Akers on the US roster this time around, though. Mexico used to have a big fat goose egg against the USWNT, too.
Yes, the United States has played much, much better as the tournament has progressed, and seems to be hitting high gear at the best possible time. Reminds me of a Gold Cup I saw recently with a US team that also thought it was playing better as the tournament went on. It was true, too, up until about twenty minutes into the Final.
Fortunately, though, the actual US players aren't going to rely on empty cliches and shallow slogans in order to beat Japan. They know that winning the midfield battle, staying strong in the back, and getting good looks on goal will require a disciplined, intelligent approach completely removed from the air-headed nonsense we see in commercials, and -
Okay, I'm being unfair. Wambach is usually a good deal more articulate than this, and it's unfair to expect Ciceronian rhetoric after a World Cup semifinal. Presumably she meant that her team was willing to make runs to get open, track back on defense, and the dozens of other unglamorous duties that don't make highlights and don't fit in a soundbite.
I just keep expecting the Onion article along the lines of "Losing Team Admits They Didn't Really Want Championship", if they haven't done it already.
Fortunately, there are rational reasons why the United States can win their third World Cup. I mocked the idea that Japan will be utterly perplexed at how to handle Abby Wambach, America's second most unlikely new sweetheart, but there's more to her than the strength and courage of a McBride. She does not see the striker's job as getting lucky once or twice a game, but as a constant combat against her opponents on defense. The goal against Brazil was dramatic, but it wasn't lucky. That was the culmination of two hours of struggle. (Rapinoe's cross, on the other hand, was out of nowhere, considering how she had played up to that point.)
Of course, the part of Abby's game where she just goes crashing towards the goal, and God save anyone stupid or unlucky enough to darken her path, is still on display to terrified audiences worldwide. (At first I thought she killed Sapowicz and Bompastor towards the end of the first half.)
America's first most unlikely new sweetheart is Hope Solo, and if France had a goalkeeper half as good we'd all be speaking French today. Interesting that both Wambach and Solo have come back from brutal injuries. Also interesting that they seem to have put that...unpleasantness...from 2007 behind them.
Then again, so what if they haven't? Abby's a forward, Solo's a keeper. They are natural enemies, like the platypus and the daffodil. Or something.
In any case, having the best keeper in the world will unfortunately be the factor that keeps the United States remotely in the game, if Japan rings up another 60-40 possession advantage. Based on performance in the tournament so far, Japan has a depressingly significant advantage in midfield, unless Megan Rapinoe (a) isn't out of miracles and (b) comes into the game early enough to make a difference (cf. Alex Morgan). If the US offense consists of Carli Lloyd honoring her hosts by re-enacting V-2 launches from 45 yards out, well, it will be a long and unpleasant Sunday for the United States.
The United States has been occasionally transcendent, occasionally horrifying, and maddeningly unreliable. Japan has been playing much better, against better opponents.
I realize I've been about as supporting of the USWNT over the past year as Dathan was to Moses in "The Ten Commandments," and I realize it's coming across as knee-jerk, simpleminded contrarianism. I apologize for that, I really am trying my best here. But is there seriously any reason, aside from size and curricula vitae, that Japan isn't a solid favorite to win?
Oh, right. If it wasn't for pressure, the United States wouldn't have a chance. I hate that commercial.