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The United States has some unfinished business to attend to in Sunday's Women's World Cup final: Avenge what transpired in Frankfurt, Germany, four years ago – or at least make right on what went wrong.
The Americans remember that horrible, empty feeling after losing the 2011 championship game to underdog Japan, which is something they don't want to experience again.
What made it worse was that Team USA twice squandered leads, surrendering the equalizing goal with three minutes remaining in the second extra time. The game ended in a 2-2 deadlock.
Then came the disastrous penalty kick shootout, with three straight misses for the U.S. by Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd.
Japan prevailed, 3-1, defeating the Americans for the first time ever in 26 meetings.
“We can’t let that happen again,” striker Alex Morgan said after the U.S. dispatched top-ranked Germany, 2-0, in the semifinals in Montreal Tuesday night.
As it turns out, that defeat has been a silent motivating force for the U.S. women.
"We were talking about that in the locker room after the game, just how horrible that feeling was four years ago," Morgan said. "Just having that still in the back of our minds. We cannot let the opportunity go."
The Americans did earn a measure of revenge against their Asian rivals, besting them in the Olympic gold-medal match at the London Summer Games in 2012. But while an Olympic gold medal is nice, it is nothing like winning a world championship.
Veteran center-back and former captain Christie Rampone, the last remaining member of Team USA’s 1999 world championship squad, has been through it all over the years. Rampone said that she always will remember that loss to Japan, however bitter the memory.
"You never forget," she said before this year’s Cup. "You remember your feelings after the loss, and you can build on that and grow stronger so that you can put your best foot forward in those games. But you don't want to get too emotional, where the game becomes more emotional than the actual game itself."
Striker Abby Wambach, a two-time gold-medal winner still in search of her first Cup title, scored a goal in the 2011 final and was the lone American to successfully convert a penalty during the shootout. The emotional heart and soul of the U.S. team, Wambach welcomes the rematch.
"In order to be the best team in the world at the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams," she said. "We just beat the No. 1 team in the world in Germany, and now we face Japan, another team that we have so much respect for.”
Wambach continued, "They're the reigning World Cup champions, so I think it's going to be a fantastic final. Everyone will have to bring their A game, and whoever finishes their chances the most will come out on top. Hopefully, it will be us."
As the tournament has progressed, the Americans have found their form, improving in each match. Their dominating performance against Germany was their best of the tournament. They hope they have one more in win in them at BC Place stadium in Vancouver on Sunday.
"I think it's fantastic," U.S. head coach Jill Ellis said. "These are two talented teams with a lot of history and rivalry, and I think it will be a classic match-up. Both teams have a lot of the same players from 2011, but, that said, this is a different team on a different journey, and I know all 23 players and our staff are tremendously excited for this next challenge."
For central defender Julie Johnston, it doesn't matter how well the Americans perform, as long as they walk away as world champions for the first time in 16 years.
"We have one more game," she said. "The ultimate goal is to win – so we need to do whatever we can."