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3 things to watch for during USA vs. Japan

How will the Women's World Cup final unfold? Here's what you should be keeping an eye out for.

For the third consecutive major tournament, the United States and Japan have reached the final. The Japanese denied the Americans the World Cup back in 2011, but the USWNT got some revenge a year later in the Olympics, defeating Japan in the gold medal game. This is the rubber match (7 p.m. ET, FOX), and it's not hyperbolic at all to say that it's a game to determine the top team of an entire era of women's soccer.


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These teams are not exactly the same as they were in those tournaments, though. Both sides still have their greatest player ever in their squads, but not their starting lineups. Homare Sawa, the winner of the last Golden Ball, and Abby Wambach, the all-time leader in international goals, are likely to start this game on the bench. This is the last World Cup that either will play in, and for Wambach, her last chance at winning the only title that has eluded her.

If you want to get an idea for where the World Cup final is going early on, here's what you should be keeping an eye out for.

1. Is Aya Miyama being defended specifically?

Japan's best player and potential Golden Ball winner is Miyama, and the United States is going to have a tough time containing her. If you're trying to spot her, she's No. 8, and she'll start on the left wing, but drift inside quite a bit. Expect her to get the ball a lot.

U.S. right back Ali Krieger will be the player who sees the most of her, but it'll be interesting to see if the Americans just defend her like they would any other player, or if they're going to have some kind of plan to contain her. They're unlikely to use a man marker, but don't be shocked if the USWNT's right winger does more defensive work than Megan Rapinoe on the other side, or if Morgan Brian shifts over a bit to close down Miyama aggressively.

2. Is the USWNT taking what Japan gives them, or forcing it to Megan Rapinoe?

All of Brian, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Kelley O'Hara have started at right wing during the Women's World Cup. While none have been poor, none have been spectacular either. On the other side of the pitch, Rapinoe has been the Americans' top playmaker.

Japan knows how important Rapinoe is, and they're going to make life difficult for her. At the same time, Japanese left back Aya Sameshima is going to get forward more than their right back, so there might be some space to counter-attack into. Will the Americans counter down that right flank when it's available, or will they look to switch play to Rapinoe more often than not?

3. How sharp does Alex Morgan look?

The USWNT has done very well in this tournament despite Morgan not being at her best. She wasn't fully fit coming into this tournament and she's missed some huge chances over the last couple of games. But she's still the USWNT's best striker by some distance, and Jill Ellis doesn't have a good reason to drop her.

It's not a death-blow for the U.S. if Morgan isn't on her game -- they beat Germany, a better team than Japan, without her playing well -- but it certainly would help if she had her best game of the tournament. She could always pop-up with a goal out of nowhere at any time, but we should have a good idea of whether or not she's on her game early. Keep an eye on how sharp her touches are in the opening minutes.