VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The United States and Japan may be familiar foes but that doesn’t make Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final any less of a tactical conundrum for both teams with the game a classic clash of styles.
The defending world and Asian champions play a clever, short-passing, possession game while the rival Americans rely more on their athleticism, individual flair and power in the final third.
Japan’s style has clearly been influenced by the successful ‘tiki-taka’ approach of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team but has evolved in recent years with coach Norio Sasaki mixing in a more direct element.
Likewise, U.S. coach Jill Ellis has eased the team away from extensive use of the long ball with a more fluid style evident, particularly since the decision to place record goal scorer, and classic target striker, Abby Wambach on the bench.
For all Wambach’s goals over the years, and her outstanding ability in the air, her presence attracted as a magnet to long balls into the box and as her mobility declined, so did the effectiveness of hitting the ball at her.
Instead, against Germany in the semi-final, midfielder Carli Lloyd was given a more attacking role, supporting the lone striker Alex Morgan.
Since Morgan is at her most dangerous with the ball at her feet and taking players on, the Americans had good reason for trying to play quality passes on the ground and the approach worked well.
With Morgan Brian and Lauren Holiday the holding pair in the center of the midfield, the Americans had a solid core to their team but they will be forced to cover a lot of ground to press the mobile Japanese.
Both Australia and England, in the quarters and semis respectively, showed Japan can be knocked off their rhythm by intense pressing and harrying - but that carries a physical toll and both were caught out late in the game.
“It is about finding a balance, you can’t just chase with your head cut off, they are way too good for that but they are also too good to just sit off and not go on them,” U.S midfielder Megan Rapinoe told Reuters.
Japan’s fluid approach revolves around their forward Shinobu Ohno, who floats around the frontline while the Americans will have to watch for the movement of wide players Aya Miyami and Nahomi Kawasumi, who both like to cut in to central positions.
Editing by Frank Pingue