Vancouver, BC (SportsNetwork.com) – Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick inside the opening 20 minutes on Sunday as the United States women’s national team claimed its third World Cup title in style, rolling to a 5-2 thrashing of Japan at BC Place.
The Americans entered Sunday’s final with a bit of revenge on their minds after falling to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final on penalty kicks, but on the strength of a stout defense and an opportunistic offense, head coach Jill Ellis’ side had little trouble taking home the title.
In keeping with her blistering form, Lloyd netted her first two goals inside the opening five minutes to lead the offense, Lauren Holiday scored on a wicked volley, while Tobin Heath added a second-half goal.
The back line of Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg as well as goalkeeper Hope Solo were strong enough on the day, despite having their scoreless streak broken after 539 minutes of play.
“After 15 minutes, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. We wanted to put them under pressure right from the start, and everything fell into place perfectly. To be honest, I couldn’t really have imagined things turning out better,” said Ellis. “However, I did know that my players were capable of doing something exceptional. That’s what they were born to do. The greater the pressure on their shoulders, the more they perform at a higher level. My backroom staff also did a fantastic job. We have a lot of respect for Japan, but tonight we were completely focused and were able to adapt our style of play perfectly.”
It took just three minutes for the Americans to find the back of the net on an excellently-worked set piece. Megan Rapinoe sent a low corner kick into the box and Lloyd ran onto it to fire it past Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.
The U.S. doubled the lead two minutes later when Johnston did well to flick a free kick to the back post. The second ball wasn’t cleared by the Japanese defense and Lloyd deposited it home.
Another gaffe from the Japanese defense in the 14th minute led to another American goal as a poor clearance allowed Holiday to run unimpeded into the box and smash a wicked volley into the left side netting, leaving Kaihori with no chance.
Lloyd saved her best for last as she completed her hat trick in the 16th minute with a spectacular individual effort. The U.S. captain collected the ball in her own half and moved just inside the attacking half of the field before looking up and letting it go with pace, catching Kaihori off her line as the ball settled into the bottom left corner.
Japan pulled one back in the 27th minute when Johnston overplayed the ball in the box, allowing Yuki Ogimi to turn on goal and rip it into the top left corner, past the outstretched glove of Solo.
Japan then cut the deficit to 4-2 just seven minutes into the second half when a deep free kick to the back post and turned in by Johnston for the own goal.
The defending champions looked to be gaining some momentum and much-needed confidence after the second goal, but just two minutes later it was gone as more poor defending in the box allowed Heath to slide in unmarked and fire home a loose ball.
Despite being down three goals, Japan continued to fight and created a handful of chances over the final 20 minutes, but Solo was equal to the task.
Ellis sent Abby Wambach into the game in the 78th minute for Heath, making sure the leading scorer in the history of the women’s game got a run and was on the field as the U.S. hoisted the trophy.
Christie Rampone, the only remaining current player who won a World Cup in 1999, also got a small curtain call and a standing ovation from the largely pro-American crowd.
Japan mounted one last attack as the clock struck 90 minutes, but the U.S. was easily able to see it out and become the first nation to win three World Cup titles.
“My players have given their all in every match, and overall they’ve had a great tournament here in Canada. Today, though, the Americans were simply too strong. In the first few minutes, it seemed as if every shot ended up in the back of the net. But we never gave up fighting for our supporters in the stadium and back home in Japan,” said Japan head coach Norio Sasaki. “We’re proud of our performances. Four years ago, we won in Germany and in doing so we really gave the development of women’s football in Japan a big boost. This time around, we reached the final, and I hope that this will lead to a new period of growth for the game. I would like to congratulate the Americans and thank the Canadians, who organized a superb tournament. USA are on top right now, and it’s up to us to emulate them. Women’s football in Japan is far from finished.”