It's a rematch four years in the making and will decide — at least for another year — the bragging rights between the long-dominant force in women's soccer and the relative upstart.
Sunday night's FIFA Women's World Cup final in Vancouver, British Columbia, pitting Team USA against Japan, will provide the United States with a chance at redemption on several fronts.
It will offer a chance to avenge the loss on penalty kicks to Japan in the Women's World Cup championship game four years ago, give several veteran U.S. players a final try at winning a World Cup title and be the deciding match in a three-game series where the two have faced off on the biggest stages.
"I think it's fantastic,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “These are two talented teams with a lot of history and rivalry and I think it will be a classic match-up.”
While Team USA has been a force in women's soccer since the establishment of the modern game in the mid-1980s, Japan's rise to prominence in the sport has been recent. It didn't win an international title until 2010: the Asian Games.
Team USA has won 24 of the 31 meetings between the two teams, including handing Japan the most lopsided loss in its history: 9-0 in 1999. Notwithstanding the 2011 Women's World Cup final, which is officially considered a draw because it was decided on penalties, Japan has beaten Team USA only once – in 2012 at the exhibition Algarve Cup in Portugal.
The United States did get some revenge for the 2011 Women's World Cup loss by beating Japan at the gold-medal match of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but the loss in Frankfurt, Germany, a year earlier is still a glaring defeat.
Alex Morgan gave Team USA the lead in the 69th minute only for Japan to equalize with nine minutes remaining. After Abby Wambach put Team USA ahead once again in extra time, Japan tied it a second time with three minutes to go, forcing penalties.
"In order to be the best team in the world at the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams,” Wambach said. “(The Japanese) have an amazing team and they're the reigning World Cup champions so I think it's going to be a fantastic final.”
The 35-year-old Wambach already has explained her motivation, having announced this will be her last World Cup. With an NCAA championship, two Olympic gold medals, a FIFA Player of the Year award and being the most prolific scorer in the women's game (183 goals), Wambach said before the tournament she desperately wanted to win a Women's World Cup to complete the resume.
Other players also are likely looking at one of their dwindling chances at a title, if not the last.
It's been 16 years since Team USA's notable 1999 Women's World Cup victory and only one player remains from that team, 40-year-old defender Christie Rampone. She has the second-most international appearances of any woman (307), yet claiming a second Women's World Cup title has eluded her.
Likewise, midfielder Shannon Boxx is 38 and goalkeeper Hope Solo will be 34 at the end of July.
“You always want a great game in the final, and that's why we are here,” midfielder Ali Krieger said. “It is fun to face Japan again, but we are really focusing on ourselves. We have good momentum, there's a really positive feel around the team and we will be ready for a great final."
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.