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Albanese: USA one game from glory

It hasn’t been pretty. It has, however, been effective.

In its conquest to capture a World Cup title for the first time since 1999, the United States Women’s National Team has had a turbulent ride. FIFA rankings place them as the top team in the world, but for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany, that same No. 1 team was the last of the 16 teams in the tournament. There were plenty of doubters — myself included — that the United States would have trouble beating the elite teams. And after Sweden shocked the States in the final game of Group C play, all signs pointed to an early exit.

Wins over Brazil and France in successive elimination matches have changed all that; with the demise of Germany in the quarterfinals, all that stands in the way of the U.S. and its third World Cup championship is Homare Sawa, Aya Miyama and the Japan Women’s National Team.

In Japan, undoubtedly the fans and media believe its national team is one of destiny, helping all the natives escape — even if temporarily — the unfortunate circumstances from the earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. Here in the States, it’s hard to think that this United States club is not also a team of destiny.

All the struggles the U.S. has gone through seem a thing of the far past. Even though they lost their group to Sweden — eliminated in the semifinals vs. Japan — they are sitting one win from a championship. Even though Brazil had the quarterfinal game in the bag, and the head official was doing her best to hand the game to the Brazilians, Megan Rapinoe set up Abby Wambach for a goal at the absolute last minute to send the game into penalties where the U.S. would prevail and move on, knocking out one of the preeminent favorites in the process. Even though France had the majority of possession, Wambach sealed the game in the 79th minute with another header goal.

It hasn’t been pretty. What it has been, however, is clutch.

While Brazil, France, Sweden and Germany all did their best to win games pretty, the United States has grinded out one win after another. Meanwhile, the aforementioned clubs have all been bounced from contention. On Sunday, all the United States has to do to erase all the ‘99 talk (or at least join the discussion), is play the same game, come up big when it’s needed, and continue to play stingy defense against a highly-skillful Japan club, and they’ll be hoisting the Cup.

Two weeks ago, I’d say that would be wishful thinking. Four days from the championship game, it seems like a no doubter.

How do you see the final playing out?

Giovanni Albanese Jr. is based out of the San Francisco Bay Area and is the sports editor for Tri-City Voice newspaper in Fremont, Calif. You can contact him on Twitter @GAlbaneseJr.

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