Abby Wambach remembers the date by heart: July 17, 2011.
That was the day the United States lost to Japan in the Women’s World Cup title match in Germany.
The Americans get a rematch tonight when the teams meet again in the final, this time in Canada. The U.S. women are favored, and there figures to be a mostly pro-American crowd making the short trip across the border to Vancouver’s BC Place.
Wambach and the rest of her teammates say they aren’t taking anything for granted. The United States, ranked No. 2 in the world, is seeking its third World Cup title, but first since 1999.
“We still have to win. We haven’t won anything yet, and we know what that feels like from four years ago,” Wambach said. “It’s not a good feeling.”
The United States is coming off an impressive 2-0 semifinal victory over Germany, the team that had unseated the Americans for the top spot in the world rankings. Criticized at times for a lack of offense, the U.S. has posted five straight shutouts.
“I think we have really good momentum. I think we have confidence as a group. But we need to raise our game, as well,” said midfielder Carli Lloyd, who leads the Americans with three goals. “This is the final, everything’s on the line, there’s no holding back. There’s no reserving energy. It’s full throttle.”
Japan, ranked No. 4 in the world, has won each of its six matches during the monthlong tournament, relying on its steady tactical skill. It is trying for its second straight World Cup title.
“It’s the final game, the last one, so there’s no more than that, and we should really cherish this moment that we are going to the final,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. “But I would also like to have a game that would contribute to the development of football in the world.”
THE LAST TIME: Japan’s victory over the United States four years ago was Asia’s first-ever World Cup title.
The Japanese erased a pair of one-goal deficits. Wambach scored in the 104th minute to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead, and Homare Sawa tied it 13 minutes later. Japan then prevailed 3-1 on penalty kicks.
It was an emotional victory, following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the nation in March, killing more than 20,000 people and touching off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.
Before boarding the flight home from Germany, Sawa said: “I have to dedicate this win to the people who suffered the disaster.”
LIGHTS-OUT D: Anchored by Hope Solo in goal, the United States’ most consistent asset in the World Cup, so far, has been its defense.
Solo, who won the Golden Glove award for the 2011 World Cup, has put up five straight shutouts. She has been helped by a solid backline of Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger.
The United States has gone 513 minutes without conceding a goal. Only Australia, in the first half of the group-stage opener, has managed to score against the Americans.
HONORING A TEAMMATE: That white teddy bear that has been a constant feature on Japan’s bench throughout the tournament honors midfielder Kozue Ando, who broke her left ankle in the World Cup opener against Switzerland.
While Ando returned home to Japan, she remains close to the players — and not just symbolically with the teddy bear that wears her jersey. She was in her teammates’ thoughts during the semifinal victory over England.
“Miss Ando was talking to the players in the locker room on the phone, and also she sent messages,” Sasaki said. “And also was the fact that she could come to Vancouver to cheer for us. That was the source of our energy. So we were able to do that.”
England 1, Germany 0 (ET)
EDMONTON, Alberta — Days after a gut-wrenching loss, England finished its deepest run in the Women’s World Cup with an uplifting victory.
No last-minute heartbreak this time around. Just a solid all-around performance for Steph Houghton and company.
Houghton’s nifty legwork prevented an own goal and Fara Williams scored on a penalty kick in the 108th minute, leading England to a victory over top-ranked Germany in the third-place game Saturday.
“This is the team we wanted to be,” coach Mark Sampson said. “We wanted to show the nation that, look, we can be knocked down, but we can also get back up. And that’s what we did.”
Karen Bardsley stopped seven shots as England rebounded quite nicely from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Japan. That semifinal was decided in the final minute of second-half stoppage time when Laura Bassett directed the ball into her own net.
The response by the sixth-ranked Lionesses was their first victory over Germany in 21 meetings.
“To finally beat Germany is a real big statement from this team, and something these players will be remembered for,” the 32-year-old Sampson said. “I think the performance of the players speaks volumes of the type of group I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
England finished the tournament with a 5-1-1 record. It had never won an elimination game in the Women’s World Cup in three previous appearances.
For Germany, which lost 2-0 to the United States on Tuesday, it was a disappointing finish for the two-time champions and raised further concerns about whether the nation’s women’s program is beginning to slip. Since winning back-to-back World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007, the eight-time European champions have a 2-3 post-preliminary round record in the past two tournaments.
It was the last World Cup game for German coach Silvia Neid and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. Neid is retiring after the 2016 Rio Games, while Angerer is retiring from the national team following this tournament.
“It’s very sad, but that’s how it is. This is reality,” Neid said. “In the end, I think England had more chances. We had a lot of chances, but unfortunately, we didn’t have any goals.”
Lianne Sanderson set up the only goal when she was pulled down by Tabea Kemme while attempting to get to a pass into the penalty area to the right of the goal. Williams scored her third goal of the tournament — and second on a penalty kick — by punching the ball just inside the left post while Angerer faded the other way.
Neid said the penalty was justified.
England avoided a major scare in the eighth minute, when Jo Potter came inches away from scoring into her own goal.
Germany’s Sara Daebritz sent a pass into the penalty area, and teammate Bianca Schmidt headed it toward the net. Unaware that Bardsley was preparing to catch the ball, Potter leaped and got her head on it. The ball caromed toward the goal, where Houghton was facing the net and kicked it back over her head inches before it crossed the line.
Bardsley said she wants to frame the picture of the captain preventing the goal.
“I think that picture will forever be etched in my mind of Steph’s leg above her head, practically touching the crossbar,” Bardsley said. “I think that epitomizes that this team is about in my opinion. There wasn’t a player on the pitch or even on the touch line today that wouldn’t have given their right leg to make sure that we won a bronze medal.”
Germany had several opportunities to tie the game in the final 10 minutes.
Anja Mittag, off a free kick just outside the penalty area, found an opening and got a shot off that was scooped up Bardsley. In the 116th minute, Schmidt got behind England’s defense and headed a cross just wide of the right post.
The Lionesses’ success in Canada has created a large buzz back home, where they attracted support from Prince William and men’s national team captain Wayne Rooney.
Sampson has become one of the team’s most vocal supporters. After beating Germany, he decided it might be time for a brief break to enjoy the moment when asked how the Lionesses build on this performance. “Look, all I’m concerned about is having a good time tonight, if I’m honest,” Sampson said, with a big grin. “Let’s stick our glasses in the air and toast to an excellent tournament, and a really special experience, memories of a lifetime.”
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