VANCOUVER — After 16 minutes the only question left was what the final score would be.
The United States defeated Japan, 5-2, to win their third Women’s World Cup title Sunday, stunning the defending champions with four goals in the first 16 minutes.
By now the Observant Reader will have, no doubt, full knowledge of the details. Of how Carli Lloyd — who had gold-medal winning goals for Team USA in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics scored the first hat-trick in a women’s final, with goals in the 3rd, 5th and 16th minutes. Of how the loss avenged the sting of Japan’s shocking victory in the 2011 final, in which the Japanese rallied from two late deficits to stun the Americans on penalty kicks. Of how this U.S. team was determined end a 16-year World Cup title drought stretching back to 1999 (the U.S. also won in ’91).
I watched the final three games the U.S. played and saw a team that was more and more entertaining each time out. The American offense seemed to come alive in the quarterfinals, semifinals and certainly Sunday.
The sting of the loss to Japan in 2011 was only slightly mollified by lowering the Rising Sun to silver medals at the London Olympics. A whipping was called for, I thought, and on Sunday Team USA delivered one.
Japan won in 2011 when the Americans, by their own admission, relaxed too much with late leads in regulation and extra time. That the Japanese were playing with a national fervor inspired by the Fukushima disaster is not to be overlooked. And Japan returning to the final this year almost entirely because of an England own-goal late in their semifinal match only added to the view among some that the Japanese were every bit as lucky as they were good.
This is not to take away from the talent of the Japanese team, which was obvious to anyone watching Sunday.
However, the Americans could clearly still feel the hurt from 2011 and doubtless were reminded of an excusing Japanese press which declared the loss in the Olympic Final as no big deal compared to winning the World Cup.
The U.S. women were too kind to say so, but a beat-down was in order. The only thing that might have made it sweeter is if it had come in Tokyo.
This time the Americans remembered the sage sporting advice that, when your opponent is down, you finish them off — you do not risk letting them get up.
After scoring on an own-goal by the U.S. in the 52nd minute, Japan had cut their gap to 4-2 and was trying to ‘get back on their feet’ only to watch Tobin Heath score for the U.S. two minutes later to put Japan back down for good.
The best teams know how to finish, and Lloyd and her teammates showed that they do.
Along the way they have won millions of fans among the young girls of America, fans who — like the women on this squad who had watched as youngsters themselves — will one day help keep the U.S. on top of the soccer world. On top of the women’s soccer world, that is.
One of the most noticeable differences for this team is that they have drawn millions of grown men and young boys as fans.
Attracting a widespread male audience has always been critical to the success of women’s sports, and it looks as if this squad might have made lasting inroads in that area.
I hope they have.