By Anne M. Peterson
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Japan clearly was not ready for Carli Lloyd.
Lloyd scored a hat trick in the opening 16 minutes on Sunday to help give the United States a 5-2 victory over Japan for its record third Women’s World Cup title.
The game Sunday night at Vancouver’s BC Place was a rematch of the World Cup four years ago when Japan prevailed after a penalty shootout for the nation’s first championship in the premier women’s soccer tournament.
Leading up to that victory in Germany, Japan had been deeply scarred by the deadly earthquake and tsunami. The national team gave the country reason to cheer, and the players were welcomed home as heroes.
A win on Sunday would have made Japan just the second team to repeat as World Cup Champions (Germany, 2003 and `07) in consecutive World Cups.
But it wasn’t to be.
Lloyd, awarded the Golden Ball as player of the tournament, scored twice in a span of about 135 seconds as the U.S. led 2-0 by the fifth minute.
Lauren Holiday boosted the lead in the 14th and two minutes later Lloyd made it 4-0 with an audacious 54-yard, right-footed shot from midfield that sailed over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.
Japan closed on Yuki Ogimi’s goal in the 27th and an own goal by Julie Johnston on an errant header in the 52nd. Tobin Heath scored two minutes later, the third goal off a restart for the Americans.
“If you look at the overall performance it was very rare in terms of the probability that we could win today,” coach Norio Sasaki said afterward through a translator.
Lloyd, a 32-year-old midfielder, had come up big against Japan before, scoring the winning goal in the 2012 Olympic final.
“Ms. Lloyd she always does this to us. In London she scored 2 goals and today she scored 3 goals. We are embarrassed,” Sasaki said. “But she is an excellent player but I really respect her and admire her.”
The Japanese arrived in this year’s final with a dramatic — and for the English, heartbreaking — semifinal victory.
After England outplayed Japan for much of the second half, a charging Laura Bassett inadvertently directed the ball at the net and it ricocheted off the crossbar for an own goal in the final minute of stoppage time, giving Japan a 2-1 win.
The victory set up the rematch with the United States. Japan, ranked No. 4 in the world, has met the second-ranked Americans three previous times at the World Cup, with the United States winning two matches before the final in Germany.
Overall, the U.S. team is 25-1-6 against Japan.
Japan’s team was boosted prior to the final by the return of midfielder Kozue Ando, who broke her left ankle in the World Cup opener against Switzerland.
Andro returned to Japan for treatment, but came back to Vancouver to cheer on her team in the final.
Throughout the tournament, a white Teddy bear wearing Ando’s jersey has been a constant feature on
Japan’s bench in her honor. It was there on Sunday.
The match was also emotional because it was likely the last appearance with the national team for Homare Sowa, who was the 2011 FIFA player of the year after leading Japan to the victory over the United States in Germany.
Sawa was awarded the Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals, and the Golden Ball for being the tournament MVP.
Sawa, who once before has retired from the national team, has said that she plans to retire for good following the World Cup.
Four years ago in Germany, Japan was the sentimental favorite after the tragedy the nation had endured in the prior months.
On March 11, 2011, more than 20,000 people were left dead or missing by a massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the country’s northeast coast. The natural disaster touched off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Following each match in Germany leading up to the final, the Japanese players marched across the field with a banner that read, “To our Friends Around the World — Thank You for Your Support,” in gratitude for the global outpouring of support in the wake of the disaster. Sasaki reminded his players of the events to inspire them to victory along the way.
In the 2011 final, Japan battled back from behind twice. Abby Wambach scored in the 104th minute of overtime to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead before Sawa’s goal in the 117th to tie it. Japan prevailed 3-1 on penalty kicks. (end)