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U.S. Women Head Into World Cup Finals With Dominant Defense

U.S. players run drills during a practice for the Women's World Cup soccer final under the open roof of BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on Saturday. The U.S. is scheduled to play Japan on Sunday.

It's here. It's today. It's the game the United States Women's National Soccer Team has dreamed about for four years. A return to the finals of the World Cup.

And, oh by the way, the team that beat the U.S. in the last World Cup is the same one they'll face today: Japan.

"For me, it's a constant reminder. It's been a constant reminder since July 17, 2011. It's kind of been that thing that's been within us, that fuels our fire, that motivates us," said star forward Abby Wambach. "It's always there and that's what happens in heartbreak."

As my colleague Shereen Marisol Meraji reported today for Weekend Edition:

In a press conference before the game, Wambach was passionate about how much this win means to her. She's the world's all-time leading goal scorer, has won two Olympic gold medals — but no World Cup title. This will be the last World Cup of her career and she wants to end the tournament a champion.

The Americans are playing with loads of confidence right now. Midfielder Carli Lloyd says she and her teammates are focused.

"This is the final. This is where you put everything on the line," she says. "There is no holding back. There's no reserving energy. It's full-throttle and I'm really confident in the way we're looking right now."

The U.S. is in the finals on the strength of its defense. The U.S. has played six games in the World Cup and hasn't given up a goal since its opener against Australia — a stunning scoreless streak of 513 minutes. Not surprisingly, the three nominees from the United States for FIFA's 'Golden Ball' award play defense and midfield.

The last time the United States won the World Cup was 16 years ago: 1999. This year's team (and the others before it) has lived in the shadow of that victory in front of 90,000 people at the Rose Bowl.

If downtown Vancouver is any indication, it will be a pro-U.S. crowd today. This picturesque Canadian city has been taken over by a sea of red, white and blue.

Hotels are booked up. The stadium sold out long ago. Tickets are selling for five and six times face value. World Cup fever is in full effect. It's Game Day!

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. EDT and will be televised on Fox and Telemundo.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.