Aya Miyama

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Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi are Ballon d’Or finalists; USWNT’s Lloyd up for women’s honor

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Carli Lloyd and Neymar are among the new names on the shortlists for FIFA’s top individual honors.

Of course, Barcelona’s Brazilian joins a pair of familiar faces in Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. One will win the Ballon d’Or on Jan. 11.

On the ladies side, USWNT star Carli Lloyd has to be considered a front-runner to become just the third American to win the FIFA World Player of the Year on the women’s side.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]

Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have also won the award, though Germany has won two-straight behind the heroics of Nadine Angerer and Nadine Kessler.

This time, it’s German striker Celia Sasic who will try to bring home the honors, and Japan’s Aya Miyama is also on the shortlist.

The coaches for Lloyd and Miyama, Jill Ellis and Norio Sasaki, are up for Women’s Coach of the Year, along with England’s Mark Sampson.

On the men’s coach side, the honor is between Luis Enrique (Barcelona), Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich) and Jorge Sampaoli (Chile).

Carli Lloyd wins Golden Ball; Hope Solo takes home Golden Glove in WWC award ceremony

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Signifying the end of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, awards were doled out paying tribute to notable individual efforts.

Following an exceptional hat-trick performance in a 5-2 win over Japan to bring home the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Carli Lloyd won the Silver Boot and Golden Ball.

Lloyd plays for the Houston Dash in the United States’ NWSL and has over 200 appearances for the Stars and Stripes.

She was joined on the shortlist for the Golden Ball by teammates Julie Johnston and Megan Rapinoe, while Celia Sasic beat out Lloyd for the Golden Boot due to the amount of minutes played.

[RELATED: Could England women’s manager be headed to the Premier League?]

The Germany international’s teammate, Anja Mittag, procured the Bronze Boot.

The Golden Glove award was given to USA goalkeeper Hope Solo, displaying her prowess as the best netminder in the world when tested. She faced competition from Germany’s Nadine Angerer and Japan’s Ayumi Kaihori.

19-year-old Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan, who attends West Virginia University, won the Young Player Award by anchoring Canada’s back line that gave up only three goals in five games.

The Silver Ball went to Amandine Henry of France and the Bronze Ball to Japan midfielder Aya Miyama.

Japan was given their second-place medals before FIFA executive Issa Hayatou, stepping in for president Sepp Blatter, awarded the United States with the main trophy.

United States, Japan meet in Women’s World Cup final with high hopes back home

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – “Three deep breaths. Keep going.”

United States women’s national team coach Jill Ellis gets that text from her father, John, almost every day.

Deep breaths are what the Americans need right now. They are one win away from winning a Women’s World Cup title that has eluded them since 1999. There is an air of anticipation lining the red, white and blue streets of Vancouver, intensifying the pressure on the United States women.

On Sunday, the U.S. will play reigning champion Japan in the final for the second straight World Cup and third straight major tournament. Japan won the 2011 World Cup and the U.S. defeated Japan in the 2012 Olympic gold-medal match.

[KASSOUF: Rise of Johnston, consistency of Sauerbrunn anchors U.S. run]

The U.S. has gained momentum over the past week, finally clicking in a victory over China in the quarterfinals which gave the Americans source: Getty Imagesconfidence, and then hitting full stride with a convincing victory over Germany in the semifinal. But as much as the mood around the team has shifted to overwhelmingly positive, it won’t mean anything without a victory on Sunday.

“I think for a lot of us these last couple of days have been interesting because we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” U.S. forward Alex Morgan said.

“We haven’t accomplished anything, but we know we’re on the verge of something amazing.”

Deep breaths.

These familiar foes face similar pressures of playing for more than just a World Cup title, but also for the further development of women’s soccer in these countries. The NWSL in the United States and the L-League in Japan both struggle for attendance, sometimes dipping below 1,000 fans. (The current average attendance in the NWSL is about 4,100 fans, a number heavily distorted by Portland, which averages over three times that number.

[KASSOUF: Solidarity of Japan shows in honoring injured teammate Ando]

Four years ago the U.S. came home as heroes despite losing in the final (twice blowing a lead and then falling on penalty kicks). The throngs of fans the mobbed the streets and the media blitz the players received was in incongruous with the result: They had lost to Japan.

“I was shocked to see how well we were received after losing the game to Japan in 2011, because our hearts were broken,” Morgan said. “We thought that we were coming back defeated and the whole country lifted us when we needed it. So I think regardless of what happens, I think we are going to be looked at as heroes. But for us to feel like we’ve done something for Abby [Wambach, U.S. forward], to feel like she can close a chapter of playing soccer, we need to get the job done on Sunday.”

There is a common idea that the United States succeeding at the 2015 World Cup – something that one could argue the team has already done by getting to the title match – will lead to with increased success for the National Women’s Soccer League.

But history yields no direct correlation. Players returned home in 2011 to crowds that swelled to over 15,000 fans as their popularity took off. But by that point, WPS – the domestic league at the time – was already dying and ultimately went under before playing a fourth season in 2012.

[KASSOUF: 2011 memory still burns Wambach | Lloyd, Brian revitalize US]

That struggle, however, is not unique to the United States. Japan captain Aya Miyama said on Saturday that she has seen a slight decline in the popularity of women’s soccer. Much like so many of the crowds in the NWSL, the L-League sometimes plays matches in front of fewer than

“If we can win the World Cup again and make an impact on the girls who start playing soccer and we can make a legacy,” Miyama said.I hope that if we win this World Cup, we can make soccer part of the culture in Japan and not just a fad.”

A World Cup title is all the motivation any player needs for Sunday. But there is a sense in being around the team and in the city that this World Cup final could blow the roof off of BC Place, but more importantly, women’s soccer in both the United States and Japan.

“In terms of the desire to win, I think both teams are at the same level,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said.

Desire should make this game a doozy, which could mean big things back home for both countries.

For Japan women’s national team, approach to game and life is team-first

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Japan captain Aya Miyama turned to her goalkeeper, Ayumi Kaihori, and, with a big smile, gave her a huge high-five.

Kaihori had just finished singing the praises of Miyama’s leadership. “She is a very trustworthy captain,” said Kaihori, placed in the always awkward position of describing a teammate who is sitting next to her.

The endearing moment was emblematic of the fabrics of this Japan team – nicknamed the Nadeshiko – and the culture of the country as a whole: It’s team-first, always. No player – not even the legendary Homare Sawa, who now comes off the bench – is bigger than the team.

“This team, the Nadeshiko has matured and the experiences they have had have [has] given inspirations to them,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. “Together, they are strong as a team.”

[KASSOUF: Lloyd, Brian key to U.S.’ mid-tournament turnaround]

Japan is the defending Women’s World Cup champion and back in the final, where the Nadeshiko will play the United States again on Sunday in search of a second straight title. Sunday marks the third straight major final contested between these two teams; the U.S. beat Japan in the 2012 Olympic gold-medal match.

Four years ago, Japan was considered a team of destiny, overcoming tragedy of an earthquake and tsunami that killed over 15,000 people prior to the Women’s World Cup to beat the U.S. in the final in penalty kicks. Sasaki said that during the 2011 tournament – some three months after the natural disaster – he showed the team videos and photos from back home to motivate the players. But Sasaki says he hasn’t done that at this World Cup. The players already have the motivation to be better and to defend their title.

[KASSOUF: Rise of Johnston, consistency of Sauerbrunn anchors U.S. run]

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

And they have also rallied around injured defender Kozue Ando, who broke her left ankle in the opening minutes of the tournament at BC Place, the site of Sunday’s final. Ando’s 22 teammates have kept her with the team in spirit, placing a teddy bear wearing Ando’s jersey on the team bench for every match. Japan won every match at this World Cup by one goal.

Ando flew back to Japan in the days following her injury to have surgery. But she returned to Vancouver on Saturday and on Sunday she – not the likeness of her as a teddy bear – will sit on the bench with the team in the same stadium in order to provide extra motivation.

“I think we complete our team only when she is here,” Miyama said of Ando on Saturday. “She is with us and she makes a big difference when she is with us. She is coming back to Vancouver and we are going to win the World Cup together with her.”

[KASSOUF: Memories of 2011 World Cup final loss serve as Wambach’s motivation]

There’s an undeniable solidarity about this Japan team, and it extends to a mutual respect between them and the Americans. The United States hosted Japan for two friendly matches before the 2011 World Cup, at a time when Japan was grieving but also trying to prepare for the World Cup. Japan hosted the U.S. in monsoon conditions as part of preparation for the 2012 Olympics.

“When we were in a very tough situation, the U.S. really helped us,” Sasaki said.

The Americans had a hint of mixed emotions after losing the 2011 final. They twice blew the lead in a World Cup final, only to lose on penalty kicks. But they struggled to be angry about losing to a humble Japan side that was largely considered a team of destiny.

So to call this USA-Japan meeting a rivalry doesn’t tell the whole story. It is by nature of meeting in three straight major championship matches, but the respect for one another ant the team harmony exuded by the two sides – especially Japan – is remarkable. Sunday will add a third chapter to that intricate story.

“It’s a good game every time we play them, it’s a good match-up and I think it’s going to be a very exciting final,” U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday said Saturday.

USWNT’s Lloyd, Johnston, Rapinoe shortlisted for Women’s World Cup Golden Ball; Solo for Golden Glove

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When Sunday’s final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup kicks off at BC Place in Vancouver, Canada, five of the 22 players suiting up for the US women’s national team and Japan will be finalists for the Golden Ball award at this summer’s tournament, as announced by FIFA on Thursday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s WWC news | USWNT ]

Similarly, two of the three finalists for the Golden Glove award, given to the tournament’s best goalkeeper as voted by the media, will be in goal as the pair of 2011 Women’s World Cup finalists do battle once again in the 2015 finale.

Candidates for Golden Ball

  • Saori Ariyoshi (Japan)
  • Lucy Bronze (England) 
  • Amandine Henry (France)
  • Julie Johnston (USA)
  • Carli Lloyd (USA)
  • Aya Miyama (Japan)
  • Megan Rapinoe (USA)
  • Celia Sasic (Germany)

Who three Americans and two Japanese on the shortlist for the Golden Ball, Sunday’s final between those two sides could very well determine the eventual winner of the award for the tournament’s best player.

A World Cup-winning goal could seal the award for any of three attackers (Lloyd, Miyama and Rapinoe), or a shutout and the game-winning goal coming from somewhere else in the team might just swings things in favor of the two defensive stalwarts (Ariyoshi and Johnston).

Candidates for Golden Glove

  • Nadine Angerer (Germany)
  • Ayumi Kaihori (Japan)
  • Hope Solo (USA)

Likewise, another shutout in the final — Kaihori has conceded three goals all tournament, while Solo has given up just one, including zero in the USWNT’s last 513 minutes played — will almost surely see either the Japanese or American shot-stopper take home the heaviest goalkeeper glove known to man.