Oh boot-iful: U.S. beats Japan to win unprecedented third Women’s World Cup title

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Four years after a heartbreaking loss, the U.S. women’s national soccer team returned to the top of the world stage Sunday, scoring four goals in the first 16 minutes — three by midfielder Carli Lloyd — to beat Japan, 5-2, for an unprecedented third Women’s World Cup championship.

Four years ago in Germany, the U.S. had a 1-0 lead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation only to see Japan tie the match and force extra time. The U.S. went ahead in extra time only for Japan to tie it in the final minutes. Japan then won, 3-1, in penalty kicks.

But there was no repeat of that Sunday in a virtual home match for the Americans in front of 53,341 at BC Place Stadium just across the border.

Lloyd scored two goals on set pieces in the first five minutes, sending the pro-U.S. crowd into delirium and propelling the U.S. on its way to its first World Cup crown since winning the title on home soil in 1999. The U.S. also won the inaugural Women’s World Cup, in 1991.

In the third minute, Megan Rapinoe sent in a corner kick on the ground that Japan failed to adequately cover. Lloyd moved in and slammed it past Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori — and the U.S. was off and running.

Just three minutes later, midfielder Lauren Holiday set up for a free kick to the left of Kaihori. Holiday sent in the ball, where it was flicked in front of the net by defender Julie Johnston. Lloyd then moved in and rammed the loose ball into the back of the net to make it 2-0.

In the 14th minute, the U.S. was on the attack when defender Ali Krieger sent a ball into the penalty box intended for forward Alex Morgan. A Japanese defender went low to try to head the ball out, but it went in the air to Holiday, who controlled it and slammed it into the net for a 3-0 lead.

Then, two minutes later, the inexplicable happened. With Kaihori moving up off her line, Lloyd let loose with a kick from the midfield line. With Kaihori battling the sun, she retreated but the ball went over her head and into the net near the left post to make it 4-0 and all but sealing the match.

In just more than 15 minutes, Japan had given up four goals after giving up only three in its six previous World Cup matches.

In the 27th minute, Japan snapped the Americans’ 540-minute shutout streak when Yuki Ogimi got a ball in the box and got it past U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, who was surrounded by controversy entering the World Cup because of domestic violence allegations, to make it 4-1.

Japan looked to get back into the match in the 52nd minute on an own-goal by Johnston. As Johnston went up to try to head a ball out of the box, she sent it the other way and past Solo to make it 4-2.

But the U.S. got the goal back three minutes later when on another set piece, this time a corner kick, Tobin Heath scored the fifth goal for the U.S.

From there, it was a coronation for the Americans — and all but erasing memories of the heartbreak of 2011.

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