Friday, July 03, 2015

Redemption in Sports: USA vs. Japan in Women's World Cup Soccer 2015

History redeems more than it repeats.

So it will be with the United States Women’s Soccer team against Japan’s on Sunday, July 5, as they play for the FIFA World Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Although it comes a day after America’s Independence Day, for fans it will be the fitting finale for the fireworks of the night before.


Because Team USA will beat Japan, that’s why.

You can call it destiny, Karma, or whatever word suggests a combination of redemption and inevitability.

The story began four years ago in Frankfurt, Germany when Japan stunned the U.S. on a penalty shoot-out following a 2-2 draw in regulation time before 48,000 fans and won the World Cup, the first Asian team to do so.

The U.S. led Japan throughout regulation play but the tenacious Japanese drew even every time. Although the U.S. got its revenge against Japan in the London Olympics a year later, the defeat in Germany never left its dark hold on the psyche of the players. It was the proverbial one that got away and its only redemption lay in defeating the plucky Japanese in another World Cup.

And so here we are four years later. Thirteen members of current Team USA were part of the team that lost in penalty kicks in 2011. And get this: all four women who took the penalty kicks for Team USA in Germany will be playing against Japan in Vancouver this Sunday.

Revenge is not a noble word because it is universally agreed that its antonym – forgiveness – is. And yet in sports, revenge can be a good thing, a substitute for redemption.

Anyone who watched the semifinal match between Japan and England in Edmonton on  July 1 will probably agree that England was the better team. They controlled the play for most of the time and created the better opportunities. And yet when England’s Laura Bassett scored a soul-crushing own goal in stoppage time to give Japan the victory, you had to read between the feints and the passes to recognize what was going on: Japan and the U.S. were destined to meet in the final, the confluence of forces beyond analysis and data-crunching. Undoubtedly England will get its chance at redemption in years to come but now the spotlight is focused on Team USA to erase history and write a new chapter.

It is true that the Women’s World Cup soccer pales next to Men’s in its global impact. On a scale of 1 to 10, the Women may merit 1 or 2 while Men register a whopping 10+. There is no comparison in the passions that the Men’s Cup unleashes. Consider what happened to Andres Escobar of Colombia who scored an own-goal playing against the United States in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Colombia lost 2-1 to the U.S. and was eliminated. Five days later, in the town of Medellin, Colombia, Escobar was murdered in cold blood by some disgruntled fans. 

For Ms. Bassett, on the other hand, there has been nothing but sympathy even from the notoriously unforgiving English media.

The final between the U.S. and Japan is likely to rouse passion to at least level 6 in soccer’s impact scale. Asia, or at least South Asia, will be riveted because Japan is playing. North Americans will be glued to the screen, well, at least the soccer aficionados will. South Americans will probably be watching as well, since on Saturday, July 4, they will have watched Messi and Argentina take on Chile in Santiago for the Copa America final, a game steeped in soccer history and rivalry. That leaves Europe, Australia and Africa (penguins in the Arctic and Antarctic get a pass) but with soccer a global game, and teams from these continents having played in the tournament in Canada, the audience there is also expected to be sizeable. Besides, all the talk about revenge and redemption have aroused the curiosity of even lukewarm fans.

So, here is the prediction: Team USA will beat Japan.

By what score, you ask?


One other thing: Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Kelley O’Hara and company must peak on July 5 (they haven’t yet, although against Germany they showed the flashes of brilliance they are capable of) to reach the summit. Redemption requires a river of sweat and tears and, unfortunately, even some blood.

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