The wait is over. What a perfect ending to what was an imperfect tournament for the United States.
The U.S., criticized for much of the competition for a series of turgid performances in the early stages, saved its best for last. Looking back, it all worked out just perfectly.
The Americans now stand alone in women's soccer, winning a record third World Cup title - and first since 1999 - by virtue of a breathtaking 5-2 victory over Japan on Sunday, a stunning result that was powered by a first-half hat trick from captain Carli Lloyd - completed 16 minutes after the opening whistle, by which time a shell-shocked Japanese team was already beaten.
There were promises made. They implored us to trust them. They would be at their very best when it absolutely mattered most. We were foolish, in hindsight, to doubt them.
Here's what you need to know about a record-smashing, historic night for the United States ...
3rd minute - Carli Lloyd, United States: The American captain gave her team a dream start with a goal less than three minutes into the contest, executing a training ground routine to perfection. The veteran made a dashing run to the first post on a corner kick, meeting a low cross from Megan Rapinoe and driving the ball home with a first-time finish.
5th minute - Carli Lloyd, United States: Another set piece, another goal. Japan was all over the place in the opening minutes, visibly shaken when trying to defend set pieces, and it bit them for a second time in the opening five minutes when Lloyd pounced on a loose ball inside the area after a free kick, poking it beyond Ayumi Kaihori.
14th minute - Lauren Holiday United States: Lauren Holiday makes it three. This is turning into an embarrassment, as another horrendous attempt by Japan to clear a cross in their own penalty area sees the ball fall to Holiday, who smashes a volley into the roof of the net.
16th minute - Carli Lloyd, United States: The best of the bunch. Lloyd completer her rapid-fire hat trick by smashing a goal from the halfway line. Yes, that's correct. The midfielder's strike, which seemed to travel in slow motion, floated over Kaihori's arm, as the goalkeeper stumbled slightly while backtracking feverishly in her failed attempt to make the save.
27th minute - Yuki Ogimi, Japan: Ogimi found the net with what would have been, in almost any other match, a goal discussed for quite some time. Sadly, it was mere consolation. The Japanese attacker took a cross down with a brilliant touch, turning Julie Johnston inside the area and putting a left-footed effort into the top corner.
52nd minute - Julie Johnston (Own Goal): Japan was given some fleeting - and ultimately unrewarded - hope early in the second half when the American defender attempted to clear a long, lofted cross, but was only able to flick it backwards and just out of the reach of Hope Solo's outstretched arm.
54th minute - Tobin Heath, United States: And then Tobin Heath crushed that Japanese hope for good two minutes later. Yet another corner kick caused mayhem in the Japanese penalty area, and when the clearly overmatched team could not clear their lines, Heath was waiting on the edge of the six-yard box to tap a short pass into a yawning goal.
Woman of the Match - Carli Lloyd
The 32-year-old midfielder, criticized for her early-tournament struggles, Lloyd turned in one of the most dominant knockout-stage displays of all-time, putting the United States on her back when others were either under-performing or absent altogether.
And it all culminated Sunday with a performance for the ages. Smart, physically dominant and boasting the confidence to score from the halfway line, Lloyd was the driving force behind a rampant American team that brushed Japan aside with the dominance befitting a World Cup champion.
For her exploits, she was awarded with the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, and the Silver Boot as the second-best scorer in the competition.
After a breathtaking showing that won't soon be forgotten, she deserves all the accolades there are.
The 1,000 Words
(Courtesy: Brooks Peck)
- When you look up the term "aerial dominance" in the dictionary from here until the end of time, there will simply be a message telling you to go and re-watch tonight's match. We knew that the Americans had an advantage in the air coming into the contest, but Japan literally could not clear the ball cleanly when it was lofted into their penalty area.
- This was about as thorough a destruction you will ever see in a tournament final (of any kind):
- So did the rest of us ...
- The United States, though not the best team early in the competition, continually improved, delivering an utterly dominant performance that it would not have been capable of roughly a month ago. For that, it is thoroughly deserving of the title as the best women's soccer team on the planet.
Relive all the action below.
All pre-match time stamps are in Eastern Time.
93' - And there's the final whistle! The United States, for the third time in history, are Women's World Cup champions thanks to a breathtaking 5-2 victory over Japan.
90' - There will be three minutes of additional time.
86' - Iconic defender Christie Rampone, the only member of the U.S. that was on the 1999 title-winning team, is into the match.
85' - The United States is five minutes away from separating itself from Germany and standing alone as the greatest nation in women's soccer history. It feels almost foolish that we doubted them for much of this tournament.
79' - Abby Wambach will get her swan song - and her Women's World Cup. The iconic American striker is into the match, receiving a boisterous welcome from the crowd as she replaces Tobin Heath.
73' - Japan has turned on the pressure somewhat in the last few minutes, pinning the Americans in their own penalty area and even winning their first corner kick of the match. Sadly for the defending champions, it's almost definitely all in vain.
68' - The match has, much like in the first half, settled after the frenetic sequence that saw each side find the back of the net.
61' - Megan Rapinoe gets a roaring ovation from the pro-American crowd inside BC Place as she comes off. The midfielder, who turned 30 today, will almost certainly be celebrating her birthday by hoisting the Women's World Cup trophy. Meanwhile, Kelley O'Hara is on in her stead.
59' - This match, in case you hadn't realized, has absolutely no chill:
54' - GOAL! So, about that comeback ... The Americans have restored their three-goal advantage, with Tobin Heath getting in on the fun by tapping the ball home from just inside the six-yard box after Japan, once again, could not deal with a corner kick. We're sounding like a broken record here.
52' - OWN GOAL! Japan has cut the lead in half, with an own goal from Julie Johnston making it 4-2. The young defender jumped to try and clear a long, lofted free kick, but could only get a flick on it and send it backwards and beyond the outstretched arm of Hope Solo. Is there a comeback on the cards here?
49' - The United States still has its foot firmly on the gas coming out of the interval, with Morgan Brian firing a rocket from well outside the area that Kaihori extends to tip over the crossbar.
46' - The second half is underway, with the United States just 45 minutes away from winning a record third Women's World Cup title.
45' - After just one minute of additional time, the referee - much to the pleasure of Japan, to be sure - blows the whistle to end a stunning opening half that saw the United States storm out with four goals in 16 minutes to take what will almost definitely hold up as an insurmountable lead. Powered by Carli Lloyd's hat trick, the Americans lead 4-1 going into the interval. Take a breath, everyone.
42' - Not surprisingly, Japan has seen more of the ball since the conclusion of the scoring spree earlier in the half. Having a three-goal lead allows you to sit back like that. That said, the Japanese have created almost nothing of note since their lone goal.
40' - We've gone more than five minutes without a goal. That is all.
33' - Japanese icon Homare Sawa is on the pitch, as Norio Sasaki has opted to take defender Azusa Iwashimizu - who is inconsolable on the bench - out of the match.
30' - That goal by Japan, though likely inconsequential in the outcome of this match, did have some historical significance:
27' - GOAL! No, it wasn't the United States. I'm as surprised as you are. Japan has one back, with Yuki Ogimi scoring her second goal of the tournament to prove that, yes, the Japanese are actually involved in this match. Ogimi took a cross down in the area with a brilliant touch, turning Julie Johnston inside the area and putting a left-footed effort into the top corner.
24' - Are you still with us? It's alright if you chose to call it a night. This one is over.
16' - GOAL! This is the most remarkable thing I've ever seen. Carli Lloyd has made it 4-0 after just 16 minutes, and this tally was one of the most audacious you will ever see. Lloyd, now tied with Celia Sasic for the tournament scoring lead with six goals, added immeasurable insult to injury by finding the net from the halfway line. You didn't read that incorrectly. The American captain picked up the ball, saw that Ayumi Kaihori was off her line, and launched the ball over her head. Incredible scenes.
14' - GOAL! Lauren Holiday makes it three. This is turning into an embarrassment, as another horrendous attempt by Japan to clear a cross in their own penalty area sees the ball fall to Holiday, who smashes a volley into the roof of the net.
10' - BC Place is still buzzing after those two early goals. Japan, winning games by the slimmest of margins throughout the tournament, will now need to score at least twice against an American team that has conceded one goal all tournament - and it came in its opening match.
5' - GOAL! Oh. My. God. Another set piece, and another goal for Lloyd and the United States. Japan is all over the place inside its own area, and after a free kick takes a few bounces inside the box, Lloyd beats her defender to a loose ball and pokes it home to double the U.S. lead. The captain's quickfire double is the fastest brace in the history of the Women's World Cup final. Game over?
3' - GOAL! The United States lead after just two minutes and 46 seconds. Carli Lloyd, who has now scored in her fourth consecutive match, got onto the end of a corner from Megan Rapinoe, smashing the ball home. It's a dream start for the Americans, and a nightmare for the Japanese.
1' - And there's the opening whistle. The 2015 Women's World Cup final is underway. A Japanese repeat, or American redemption? We'll find out in 90 (or 120) minutes.
6:53 p.m. - The teams are on the pitch, and we are minutes away from the national anthems ringing through BC Place.
6:40 p.m. - Though there was never any doubt, the aforementioned team sheets confirm that we will indeed see Japanese captain Aya Miyama play opposite American fullback Ali Krieger in what will likely prove to be the most intriguing individual matchup of the game. If Krieger can shut down the 30-year-old midfielder, it's almost impossible to see where the Nadeshiko's offense is going to come from - especially with Mana Iwabuchi left on the bench to start the contest.
6:36 p.m. - In case you were wondering, the Americans will be wearing their white kits with black and neon green trim (down with tradition!), while the reigning champions will be outfitted in their classic dark blue uniforms.
6:21 p.m. - The teams are out onto the pitch for pre-match warmups, with BC Place - as it has all tournament long - looking spectacular:
(Courtesy: FOX Soccer)
6:12 p.m. - To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Americans will have the added benefit of playing tonight's match in front of a boisterous, pro-U.S. crowd inside BC Place. Throngs of fans have made the short trip across the border, taking over Vancouver:
6:05 p.m. - The team sheets are out ahead of the contest, and not surprisingly, each manager has opted for the same lineup that emerged victorious from their respective semifinal matches.
6:01 p.m. - Japan starting XI (4-4-2): Kaihori; Sameshima, Kumagai, Iwashimizu, Ariyoshi; Miyama, Utsugi, Sakaguchi, Kawasumi; Ogimi, Ohno
6:01 p.m. - United States starting XI (4-2-3-1): Solo; Klingenberg, Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Krieger; Brian, Holiday; Rapinoe, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan
6:00 p.m. - Welcome to theScore's live blog of the 2015 Women's World Cup final, where the United States and Japan will meet in a rematch of the showpiece match from four years ago. The contest kicks off at 7:00 p.m. inside Vancouver's BC Place.