Womens World Cup

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Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992524 How they got there: the US and Japan's journeys to the World Cup final How+they+got+there%3A+the+US+and+Japan%27s+journeys+to+the+World+Cup+final Womens World Cup

When Japan visited the United States for two pre-World Cup friendlies in May, nobody thought the  nations would meet again in Frankfurt with the world title on the line. Two months later, Japan is on the brink of their first World Cup, while the United States goes for its third - their first in 12 years.

But neither had a smooth path to the final, overcoming disappointment at the end of group stage to conquer the knockout round.

Here's how each team make it to Frankfurt - the highlights from the US and Japan's 2011 FIFA World Cup.

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images - AP Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_amy_rodriguez_homare_sawa_Azusa_Iwashimizu_united_states_japan_071411_20110714175320777_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_amy_rodriguez_homare_sawa_Azusa_Iwashimizu_united_states_japan_071411_20110714175320777_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992523 An inauspicious beginning (Japan 2, New Zealand 1) An+inauspicious+beginning+%28Japan+2%2C+New+Zealand+1%29 Womens World Cup

Japan was the first to play, opening their finals push on the second day of the tournament against the Football Ferns of New Zealand. Aya Miyama's second half goal broke a 1-1 tie, but although Japan would claim all three points with a 2-1 win, it was not a convincing start for the eventual finalists. After the first round of play, many were wondering if anything had changed with a Japan team that's had its share of group stage exits.

PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_aya_miyama_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175320776_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_aya_miyama_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175320776_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992530 Hat trick hero (Japan 4, Mexico 0) Hat+trick+hero+%28Japan+4%2C+Mexico+0%29 Womens World Cup

Japan turned heads in their second game, running out to a 4-1 victory over a Mexico team that had taken a point from Mexico in round one. Three goals from Homare Sawa (pictured) help clinch Japan's quarterfinal spot, giving notice that this team was unlikely to see another early exit. The hattrick from Sawa (who sits on four goals ahead of Sunday's final) has Japan's captain in position to win the Golden Boot for most goals in the tournament.

Joern Pollex/Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_homare_sawa_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175329784_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_homare_sawa_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175329784_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992526 Reason for doubt (Japan 0, England 2) Reason+for+doubt+%28Japan+0%2C+England+2%29 Womens World Cup

Just when Japan had inspired confidence that they were ready to transcend their previous World Cup results, along came England. The Lionesses had looked slow, disjointed, and without cutting edge in their two previous matches, so when they posted a 2-0 victory over a team people were considering as possible contenders, the tried-and-true view of Japan came back to the fore. With the loss pairing Japan against Germany in the quarterfinals, it looked like another early exit was in the cards.

Christopher Lee/Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_ellen_white_azuka_iwashimuzu_england__japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175323778_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_ellen_white_azuka_iwashimuzu_england__japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175323778_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992533 Against all odds (Japan 1, Germany 0) Against+all+odds+%28Japan+1%2C+Germany+0%29 Womens World Cup

And then came the shock, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. When Homare Sawa fed Karina Maruyama for the extra time goal against Germany, not only had the hosts and two-time defending champions been toppled, but Japan had forever laid to rest any reputation of underachieving the team had accumulated during the first five World Cups. Whether nobody believed in them, it was against all odds, or it was a Cinderella story, Japan gave life to all the cliches by toppling the prohibitive World Cup favorites.

ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_Karina_Maruyama_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175328783_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_Karina_Maruyama_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175328783_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992529 Another hero (Japan 3, Sweden 1) Another+hero+%28Japan+3%2C+Sweden+1%29 Womens World Cup

Even though Sweden scored first, Japan was able to carry to momentum from the Germany upset into the semifinal. A quick response and two more goals, including Nahomi Kawasumi's 40-yard tally to seal the match, gave Japan a 3-1 victory, pushing the team into their first Women's World Cup final.

Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images - AP Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_Nahomi_Kawasumi_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175331786_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_Nahomi_Kawasumi_japan_gi_rf_071411_20110714175331786_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992525 On the right foot (United States 2, North Korea 0) On+the+right+foot+%28United+States+2%2C+North+Korea+0%29 Womens World Cup

For the United States, it took a little while to jump start their 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. Forty-five minutes, to be precise. A slow start in their Group C opener against North Korea gave ardent supporters a moment of pause, but when Lauren Cheney (right) scored her first World Cup goal nine minutes into the second half, the US was on track to a 2-0 win over the Koreans.

Boris Streubel/Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_carli_lloyd_lauren_cheney_gi_rf_071411_20110714175323779_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_carli_lloyd_lauren_cheney_gi_rf_071411_20110714175323779_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992527 Long distance (United States 3, Colombia 0) Long+distance+%28United+States+3%2C+Colombia+0%29 Womens World Cup

World Cup neophytes Colombia were never expected to be a problem for the Americans, though when the US ran out to a 3-0 win over South America's runners-up, there was reason to believe the US was ready to live up to their lofty reputation. The match's highlight came early, when Heather O'Reilly put a ball from well outisde the box into the top-left hand corner, opening an easy day for the Americans.

Alex Grimm/Getty Images - AP Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_heather_oreilly_united_states_gi_rf_071411_20110714175324780_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_heather_oreilly_united_states_gi_rf_071411_20110714175324780_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992534 Bump in the road (United States 1, Sweden 2) Bump+in+the+road+%28United+States+1%2C+Sweden+2%29 Womens World Cup

Like Japan, the US would stumble after looking most convincing. Sweden was able to cut through the middle of the US defense to earn an early penalty kick, and when Nilla Fischer (left) put the Swedes up 2-0, not even a late consolation off Abby Wambach's shoulder could propel the US to first in Group C. The Americans would finish behind Sweden, earning a ticket for the most anticipated quarterfinal of all-time.

Martin Rose/Getty Images - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_nilla_fischer_abby_wambach_sweden_united_states_gi_rf_071411_20110714175343789_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_nilla_fischer_abby_wambach_sweden_united_states_gi_rf_071411_20110714175343789_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992528 Do you believe in miracles? (United States 2, Brazil 2 - 5-3, penalty kicks) Do+you+believe+in+miracles%3F+%28United+States+2%2C+Brazil+2+-+5-3%2C+penalty+kicks%29 Womens World Cup

Despite an early own goal, the deck seemed stacked against the US, with a curious bout of officiating giving Brazil two chances to equalize from the spot early in the second half. The second try (after the first had been saved) left it 1-1, and when a Marta wondergoal put Brazil up early in extra time, the US looked set for their earliest exit ever. But in the 122nd minute - two hours after the US opened their account - Abby Wambach headed home the game-tying goal, sending the match to penalty kicks, where the two-time champions emerged victorious.

TODD ANDERSEN/AFP - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_abby_wambach_hope_solo_united_states_gi_rf_071411_20110714175324781_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_abby_wambach_hope_solo_united_states_gi_rf_071411_20110714175324781_107_80.JPG
Womens World Cup 111294 43 United States-Japan: Path to the WWC final 29992531 Bounce back (United States 3, France 1) Bounce+back+%28United+States+3%2C+France+1%29 Womens World Cup

The oldest team in the tournament had to recover quickly for their semifinal against France, and despite grabbing the lead through an early Lauren Cheney goal, the US was on the back heel for most of the match. As France dominated possession, you couldn't help but wonder when the US would run out of steam. But compared to the obstacles the team overcame against Brazil, a little physical exhaustion was a minor hurdle. Late goals from Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan gave the US a 3-1 win and a change to claim their first title in 12 years.

- AP Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_pia_sundhage_gi_rf_071411_20110714175344790_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/07/14/wwc_pia_sundhage_gi_rf_071411_20110714175344790_107_80.JPG
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