Finally we are there. The final of the womens world championships Canada 2015. And it will be a duel between the same two sides as the last time 2011 in Germany where Japan against all odds were finally crowned world champions.
This time though it was not quite as unexpected that Japan would appear in the finals. They were the highest ranked team in their bracket of the ko-stages and maybe a little bit lucky that USA, France and Germany had to battle it out in the other half of the bracket.
Where USA advanced maybe as well a little bit lucky regarding the fact that after lower ranked Colombia and China they had only one Top10 team to beat on their way with Germany. Not few however could still see this as having been the most difficult task on their route to the title and the semi final USA – Germany having been the premature final.
Japan will try to proof this wrong and get back on track after winning all of their matches so far. But they completely lost their fluent style sometimes named “possession game” in the semi final match against England and advanced in a game that saw their opponents as the most likely winner until an own goal from England in extra time after one of Japans few visits to the opposite box.
What to expect
Finals of such an event often write their very own stories and already the semi finals were decided quite specially where England as the better side beat themselves by an own goal and USA as the better side would have not been able to convert this but instead needed three lucky moments to see a penalty of their opponents missed, a red card not given and a very doubtful penalty rewarded for them to win the game.
So the question is if this time the better team will be able to convert their advantage into goals. We have seen the USA with some quite heavy mixes in formation and very different performance levels so far in this tournament. Still on the search to find their best formation they certainly found one against Germany that worked at least better than most of their previous attempts and you would expect them not again to start strange mix ups however be aware of the fact that what was right against Germany might not be right against Japan.
Japan on the other side looked like a real solid contender with an absolute flawless way through. But the England game changed that all. Suddenly they looked like an orchestra who lost their sheets all together. Hardly ever did you see the players play so awfully unsorted and individually faulty as well with and without having ball possession. Suddenly is seems difficult to say what to expect from them who have been so reliable during all of their previous games. Expect them to be better however than against England or we will get a very single-sided final.
Keys to success
1. Whoever it gets: Make your advantages count! In both semi finals that was not the case as well as in the game from France against Germany. Will there be a third? Or let us say the other way round: Who ever is better in taking what comes his way might again be the winner not necessarily depending on who is the better side.
2. Make your physical advantages count (USA) or make your physical deficits not count (Japan).
That does mean far more than (but of course too) set pieces.
Japan as mentioned above might have had a very bad day in the office where a lot of the players individually seemed to lack awareness and sharpness. But maybe England should be given a fair amount of credit to having forced this issue especially in the second half when they pressed high up the pitch eg. at throw ins close to the corner. Japan did not throw a long ball to somebody further up the field to head it on again along the line because that would give their bigger opponents good chances to intercept. They usually always try to pass their way out of their own half with lots of short passes. But that led to lots of losses because England was not shy to press forward with a lot of players. Whenever Japan is forced to play long balls towards their forwards it should usually be not too difficult pick ups for the back line.
3. Force Japan to work the ball all the way from back to top. Surely all football friends (nearly all, at least) have enjoyed their team goal against the Netherlands. They can string together wonderful passes like not much other teams can. And this is dangerous when you let them get easily forward and close to the box to start their combinations from there. For this reason you should build up more resistance already further up the pitch. Combining the ball all the way through in such a kind from the back to the top is not possible. You have to be ready to do a lot of running against Japan to prevent them from having the bigger number of players around the ball all the way up the pitch.
4. Lots have been talked about the possession game of Japan. But it might be as least as important how to break down their compact team when Japan do not have possession. And to get this right – or for Japan to get their defending right might be even more key of the game.
Things to watch out for:
Japan 2011 had Sawa who earned the MVP title of the tournament. At the moment they seem to lack a similar outstanding player like she was in 2011 who is able to steady the ship if there is a phase of pressure from the opponents. (Ogimi not quite the player we used to see; Kawasumi, Iwabuchi the most dangerous so far but no Sawas) Or will they also be able to compensate for that by their team work.
Often in the final stages of such events games are decided or mainly influenced by the fact that the players start to be drained out physically and mentally. Nerves have not often played a part but cautiousness that even more creeps in when you feel a little tired. So who is able to still reach a performance level close to the maximum? Or will one side show evident signs of fatigue?
You saw that already from some German players after they had games against Sweden – France – USA in short succession. And it showed extremely in their game for third place. If both sides can manage to stay away from that it might become a close match. Doubts are why Japan showed such a weak and tired performance against England and whether this was only on that one bad day.
If the match gets close because both reach their standard performance level it might well be decided by the tactical ability of the USA to stretch Japan enough to make the physical advantage count. It is one thing to pick up Krahn in the German defense to go at her in 1on1 situations. Japans back line seems kind of the opposite type of players and thus should ne played quite differently.
Have we already seen the “real” final when the USA played Germany? The neutral crowd would certainly be happy to see Japan answer this question with a loud “no”. Can they do them the favor?