VANCOUVER—A remarkable hat trick from captain Carli Lloyd propelled the United States to a 5-2 win over Japan in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final at BC Place on Sunday evening in front of 53,341 fans.
With this result, the United States is now the most successful nation in this competition, having previously won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999.
It was fitting that Lloyd played the role of hero. It was her goal against World No. 1 Germany that proved the game winner to send the U.S. to this final, and before that it was her headed effort that sent the U.S. past China and into the semifinals. Such was the magnitude of her performances in the build up to this game, she was named player of the match three times before claiming the same award on this night.
Before the World Cup trophy presentation, Lloyd was named the winner of the Golden Ball award as the tournament MVP. Teammate Hope Solo won the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper, while Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan was named best young player of the tournament.
Lloyd got things going just three minutes in, getting on the end of a corner with a well-timed run into the box. She then followed that up just two minutes later, pouncing on a loose ball in the box off a free kick on the right side. Alex Morgan appeared to get a touch, and the ball dropped to Lloyd, who managed to bundle the ball over the line under pressure.
“It’s taken us a while to score in the first few minutes of a game,” Lloyd said in the post-match news conference. “There was something different in the air within the team these last few days. There was no hesitation, there was no doubt. We were just super excited, super anxious to start this game, to play it. We knew that if we took it to Japan, they’re going to get nervous on the pitch.
“We locked them in, we pressured them, we scored early, which was fantastic. It was just great.”
The Americans tripled their lead in the 14th minute, as Lauren Holiday smashed home a dropping ball after defender Azusa Iwashimizu couldn’t clear the ball with a simple header while under very little pressure.
Japan’s hellish final got worse in the 16th minute, as Lloyd crossed the centre circle and spotted Ayumi Kaihori off her line, firing a long-range lob at goal. The goalkeeper scrambled to get back and lost her footing, getting a poor hand on the ball before it ricocheted off the post and into the gaping goal to give Lloyd her hat trick.
“I’ve dreamed of scoring a shot like that,” Lloyd said. “I did it once when I was a little bit younger on the national team in a training environment. But very rarely do you just wind up and hit it. I think when you’re feeling good, mentally, physically, those plays are just instincts and it happens. I feel like I’ve blacked out for the first 30 minutes or so in that game. It’s just crazy. Unbelievable. Just really proud of everyone on the team.”
This isn’t the first time Lloyd has ruined a final for the Japanese – she scored twice when these sides met in the London 2012 Olympic final.
“She always does this to us,” lamented Japan coach Norio Sasaki through an interpreter. “In London she scored two goals and here she scored three. We are a bit embarrassed but she is an excellent player, so I really respect and admire her. She deserves the golden ball award, and congratulations to her.”
Yuki Ogimi opened Japan’s account with a well-taken goal in the 27th minute, taking a pass from the right from Nahomi Kawasumi. She turned well in the area, beating defender Julie Johnston before firing a left-footed shot into the top left corner.
That effort represented the first goal the U.S. conceded since its opening match of the tournament.
Japan scored its second in the 52nd minute, as Johnston scored an own goal. On a set piece, she rose up against Homare Sawa and appeared to lose balance as the ball hit her head and went into the right corner of the net past a helpless Hope Solo.
Just moments later, Tobin Heath scored after a scramble in the area, which killed the momentum Japan had been building and restored a three-goal lead for the U.S. Morgan Brian played a key role in the play with a well-weighted pass across the box.
Beyond the goals, there were other big moments.
Lloyd almost had four goals by the 18th minute, getting her head on a cross from Meghan Klingenberg, but her effort narrowly missed wide to the left of target.
Morgan came close in the 24th minute, weaving her way around two defenders, but her low shot on target was easily held by Kaihori.
Brian stung the fingers of Kaihori in the 50th minute with a shot from just outside the area. Just moments before, Lloyd had dazzled the Japanese defence with some fancy footwork on the right wing.
In the 62nd minute, Rumi Utsugi narrowly missed to the right of goal after smashing a dropping ball. Then, moments later, Heath played a ball into the area, where Morgan turned her marker with ease before firing wide of the right post at the other end of the pitch.
Eight minutes later, Kelley O’Hara had an excellent opportunity at the top of the box, but fired her shot well over target.
Substitute Yuika Sugasawa had a guilt-edged chance in the 76th minute, finding herself with a free header from about six yards out. Under very little pressure, her effort went straight at Solo.
In the 79th minute, Abby Wambach entered the match, ensuring she saw minutes in her last-ever Women’s World Cup before international retirement.
“Surreal,” Wambach said of her final match. “Four goals in [16 minutes]. I don’t even know how that happens, especially at a World Cup final. I couldn’t be happier for Carli.”
With the win, the U.S. finishes the tournament undefeated, claiming six victories, only failing to win in a scoreless group stage match against Sweden.