Just like last year in Germany, Japan and the US are squaring off in one of the biggest tournament finals in women's soccer. The US seek a different outcome in a rematch between the two best teams at this summer's games.
Japan will take on the United States for women's Olympic soccer gold Thursday at London's Wembley Stadium. The game is a rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final in Germany (pictured above).
Japan captured the hearts of world football with their surprise run to the World Cup trophy, beating the US on penalties.
For the United States, the loss was a major blow to a team that was seen as a sure favorite. The Americans have won the last two Olympic Games, and Thursday's final gives them a shot at redemption.
US reaches final in dramatic fashion
Just like last year, the Americans reached the final in dramatic fashion. The US beat Canada 4-3 after extra time Monday night at Old Trafford in Manchester. It was a thrilling match, with the United States coming back from a goal down three times before going on to win in the dying moments of the second half of extra time.
The game was full of incredible moments. After Canadian captain and all-time-leading goal scorer Christine Sinclair put Canada ahead 1-0 in the 22nd minute, US winger Megan Rapinoe responded by scoring an "Olympico" - a goal scored direct from a corner.
Sinclair scored again in the 67th minute, and again Rapinoe responded just three minutes later with a thunderous shot from outside the box that bounced off the left post and into the back of the net. Sinclair netted a hat trick when she put Canada in the lead in the 73rd minute, but it was the American's third goal to level the game in the 80th minute that everyone will talk about.
Norwegian referee Christina Pederson blew the whistle on Canada's goalkeeper Erin Mcleod for holding onto the ball too long and violating FIFA's Law 12, which says a goalkeeper can only handle a ball for six seconds. Canada were called for a hand ball in the box on the ensuing free kick and forward Abby Wambach converted the penalty.
Extra time was where the real drama played out. In the dying moments of the game, striker Alex Morgan scored a 123rd minute header to send the Americans into the final.
In the other semifinal, things were more straight forward. Japan took a 2-0 lead in the 49th minute off of a goal from midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi. France's Eugenie Le Sommer was too little too late with her goal in 76th minute, and Japan held on to win 2-1, reaching their first Olympic final ever.
Japan were the weaker team in their last meeting with the United States, losing 4-1 in a friendly match two months ago in Sweden. But over the last year, Japan have been the superior team in head-to-head play.
After their triumph in the World Cup Final in July of 2011, Japan beat the Americans 1-0 in the group stages of the Algarve Cup this March in Portugal. Less than a month later, the two teams drew 1-1 in the Kirin Challenge Cup.
There is little doubt that the two best teams in women's international football have made the final. It will be defense verses attack. The United States have scored an impressive 14 goals so far at this tournament, averaging just under three goals per game.
The Japanese have allowed just four goals all tournament. After struggling offensively in the group stage and scoring just two goals, Japan turned it on with 2-0 and 2-1 wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. Captain Homare Sawa, last year's world player of the year, is the heartbeat of their talented midfield.
Thursday's final will be a huge moment for the world of women's football. Japan will be looking make their mark as one of the sport's greatest sides with consecutive major tournament wins. The United States will want to make up for their World Cup heartbreak a year ago, and capture one more trophy for their talented veteran generation.