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U.S. dominates Japan in Women’s World Cup final

Kyodo, AP

Nadeshiko Japan’s hopes of retaining the Women’s World Cup title were shattered during a 5-2 hammering by the United States in the final in Vancouver on Sunday.

Four goals in the first 16 minutes, including a hat-trick from U.S. captain Carli Lloyd — the first in a Women’s World Cup final — left Japan with a mountain to climb and although the Nadeshiko replied through Yuki Ogimi and an own goal from Julie Johnston, there was to be no comeback.

Lauren Holiday and Tobin Heath also scored for the Americans, who avenged their penalty shootout defeat to the Japanese in the 2011 final, and secured a record third title, their first since 1999.

“If we had been a bit tighter at the start (the result could have been different), but the players never stopped running until the end and I am proud of them,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.

“We have had the pressure of being champions these past four years but to get to this stage the players have done really well.”

Captain Aya Miyama said, “I have no regrets. I gave everything I had and everyone on the team made an effort to win this World Cup.

“We really tried hard. But winning the final and finishing runners-up are two different things, so I feel really sorry about that.”

Japan got off to the worst possible start and fell behind early.

Lloyd put the U.S. ahead in the third minute off a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe, streaking into the penalty area on a diagonal run and using the side of her left foot just in front of the spot to redirect the ball inside the far post.

She made it 2-0 two minutes later after Holiday took a free kick from the flank and Johnston made a back-heel flick to Lloyd, who poked the ball between two defenders and past Japan ‘keeper Ayumi Kaihori’s outstretched arms.

Holiday made it 3-0 in the 14th minute, volleying in from 10 yards after Azusa Iwashimizu’s header on an attempted clearance bounded high in the air.

Lloyd’s third goal, an audacious 54-yard, right-footed shot from midfield, came when Kaihori ventured far off her line. The keeper backpedaled and got her right hand on the ball, but it glanced off a post into the goal, giving the U.S. a 4-0 lead before halftime.

“I called her my beast, and she is just a beast, man,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “She’s unbelievable. Rock star. Just so happy for her.”

It was the fastest hat trick in World Cup history — men or women — and Lloyd became the first American since Michelle Akers in 1991 to score multiple goals in a World Cup final. The only other hat trick in a World Cup final was when England’s Geoff Hurst scored three times against Germany in the men’s 1966 final at Wembley.

“Miss Lloyd, she always does this to us. In London (in the Olympic final) she scored two goals and today she scored three goals. We are embarrassed,” Sasaki said. “But she is an excellent player and I really respect her and admire her.”

Japan failed to manage a single shot until the 23rd minute, but American goalkeeper Hope Solo comfortably dealt with an effort from Mizuho Sakaguchi that would have gone wide in any case.

Ogimi pulled one back in the 27th minute, getting a good first touch on Nahomi Kawasumi’s cross and turning to smash it past Solo.

“We tried to play our game and never gave up until the end but we could not come back after continuing to concede goals at the start. We just weren’t good enough,” said Ogimi.

Sasaki sent on former Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa, star of Japan’s 2011 Women’s World Cup win, for Iwashimizu in the 33rd minute to give Japan more firepower and also replaced Kawasumi with striker Yuika Sugasawa six minutes later.

Sawa applied pressure that paid off as her marker Johnston tussled with her for the ball and inadvertently headed Miyama’s free kick into her own net seven minutes into the second half.

But Japan’s hopes of a comeback took another blow as the U.S. restored the three goal cushion in the 54th minute.

Kaihori got a hand on a corner from the left, but the ball fell to Morgan Brian, who turned it back from the far post for Heath to lash in and make it 5-2.

Japan threw on Mana Iwabuchi and pressed hard to try and claw its way back, and Sugasawa went close with a close-range header in the 76th minute, but the Americans comfortably held on for the win.

“We conceded three goals at a point in the game that we shouldn’t have and that hurt us. But I think all of the players gave it everything they had,” said Sawa, playing in a record sixth Women’s World Cup which she also said would be her last.

“I myself have no regrets either and gave it everything I had,” said the 36-year-old, the top scorer and MVP at the last Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Iwabuchi, whose late goal earned Japan a 1-0 win over Australia in the quarterfinals, was unable to hide her disappointment.

“The only thing left is frustration,” said the Bayern Munich striker. “This was the last game with these 23 players and it was a great team.”