VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Under a thick haze and the smell of smoke from a blazing forest in the distance, Carli Lloyd caught fire on Sunday at BC Place.
Lloyd scored a hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the Women’s World Cup final to lift the United States past Japan, 5-2 and deliver a record third World Cup title. Lloyd scored her third goal from midfield, driving the ball over Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.
Japan entered the match as reigning World Cup champions, having beaten the United States in penalty kicks in the 2011 World Cup final.
The World Cup title is the United States’ first since 1999. They are also three-time defending Olympic champions, having beaten Japan in the 2012 Olympic final in London. Lloyd scored twice in that final to beat Japan as well.
“Ms. Lloyd, well she always does this to us,” Japan head coach Norio Sasaki said after the game, dropping his head and smiling.
For two teams that entered Sunday’s final on the backs of defensive performances, the United States and Japan (but mostly the Americans – and even more specifically, Lloyd) combined to smash offensive records.
Lloyd became the first player in history to score a hat trick in a Women’s World Cup final; Michelle Akers is the only other player to net a multi-goal game in a final, scoring twice in 1991. Lloyd’s goal in the 3rd minute was the fastest ever scored in a final. Lloyd also became the first American player to score in four straight World Cup games.
The seven combined goals is the most in a Women’s World Cup final, and the United States’ five goals is a record for one team.
In the 3rd minute, Lloyd beat Japan defender Azusa Iwashimizu to the ball on Megan Rapinoe’s corner kick, and two minutes later Lloyd beat Iwashimizu again for her second goal. After mis-heading the ball up in the air just prior to the United States’ third goal – scored by Lauren Holiday – Iwashimizu was replaced in the 33rd minute by Homare Sawa, playing in her co-record sixth World Cup.
Lloyd would steal the headlines in the 16th minute with her iconic strike from near midfield to make it 4-0.
Japan managed to get a goal back before halftime through Yuki Ogimi, and a second goal just after halftime off the head of U.S. defender Julie Johnston.
But two minutes after that second Japan goal, U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath scored the United States’ fifth goal, icing the match.
The United States finished the tournament unbeaten, winning all but one game – a scoreless draw against Sweden in the group stage.
A rough start in the opening minutes of the World Cup against Australia – when Hope Solo made two tournament-changing saves and Rapinoe scored her first of two goals early against the run of play – feels like a memory of years’ past. After the tie with Sweden, the Americans scraped past Nigeria to win Group D and then narrowly defeated 10-player Colombia in the round of 16 before coming into their own in the quarterfinal against China.
In that match, U.S. coach Jill Ellis inserted Morgan Brian and allowed Lloyd to push higher up the field, a move that truly paid dividends in the semifinal against Germany, which the United States dominated.
Building off of those successes, Ellis stuck with the same starting XI from the semifinal in Sunday’s final against Japan, freeing up Lloyd to sit behind Morgan and do what she does best: Push forward and score goals.
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