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Sports

Bumpy road looking pretty good now for U.S.

July 17, 2011

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— The bumpy, windy road got the Americans right where they wanted to go all along.

Eight months after having to win a playoff just to get to Germany, the Americans face Japan in the Women’s World Cup final today. A win would be the ultimate finish to their improbable journey, making the United States the first three-time champion and delighting a country of newfound fans.

“I believe all the way we’ll find a way,” Carli Lloyd said Saturday after the team’s last training session. “It’s going to be a tough match like every other match has been, but I believe that we will find a way, and it’s our destiny to get it done.”

For a long time, the Americans were about the only ones who believed that.

The U.S. is the No. 1-ranked team in the world and defending Olympic champion, and the Americans have dominated the women’s game for the better part of two decades now. But they arrived at the World Cup looking, well, kind of average. They were stunned in regional qualifying in November in Mexico, a team that hadn’t managed a win in its first 25 tries against its neighbor to the north, and had to beat Italy in a two-game playoff for the very last spot in the World Cup.

They opened the year with a loss to Sweden, then fell to England for the first time in 22 years — so long ago Alex Morgan hadn’t even been born yet. Then, after easy wins in their first two games in Germany, the Americans lost to Sweden again, their first loss ever in World Cup group play.

“In the past, we’d always won everything,” captain Christie Rampone said. “Those losses made our team what it is today. We need each other and you feel that, from the locker room to the time we step on the field.”

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