The pain of the 2011 final loss fuels the 2019 USWNT at the Women’s World Cup™

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JULY 17: Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach of USA look dejected during the FIFA Women's World Cup Final match between Japan and USA at the FIFA World Cup stadium Frankfurt on July 17, 2011 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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LYON, France – The Netherlands heads into Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final hoping and thinking it can claim the sport’s ultimate prize.

The Americans genuinely know they can, because they’ve actually done it.

However, for some of the senior members of the U.S. squad, it is not the freshest of those successes – that famous triumph in Canada four years ago – that is at the forefront of their mind. When I spoke to star forward and co-captain Alex Morgan following the semifinal win over England on Tuesday, talk turned to the 2011 Women’s World Cup, a tournament where the U.S. dominated the headlines, but ultimately was not victorious.

“2011 was the most devastating loss that I have ever had in my entire career,” Morgan told me. “It was heartbreaking, so obviously, to bounce back in 2015 and to know that we have one more opportunity this time around is pretty incredible. This team has shown so much heart during the tournament. We didn’t take the easy route, so we are here to finish it off. It is about continuing the momentum and finishing the job.”

The reference to 2011 was a timely reminder that however well a tournament campaign appears to be going, and however much of a juggernaut the Americans can seem at times, there is no such thing as a certainty in soccer.

Furthermore, the similarities that can be found between the 2011 and 2019 World Cups are significant. The event eight years ago was also in Europe, staged across Germany. The biggest test and most notable win for the U.S. came in the quarterfinal against Brazil; this time it was against France at the same stage. And in the final in 2011, the team faced an opponent, Japan, that few observers gave any chance of pulling off an upset.

But the Japanese did indeed stun the soccer world. Morgan, then 22, opened scoring in the second half of the final, only for Japan to equalize late in regulation. Another equalizer deep into extra time shook the U.S., and they succumbed on penalty kicks.

Tobin Heath remembers the pain, having entered as a sub late in the extra period, and missing her penalty in the shootout as the third American kicker.

“We learned a lot from 2011,” Heath said. “We understand that nothing is finished. It is huge for us to finish the mission.”

Think of this American team, and one of the first words that springs to mind is “confidence.” But over-confidence?

Forget about it. While the Dutch will be big underdogs on Sunday, don’t expect the defending champs to take their foot off the gas. They know the job is not yet done.

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“There is no complacency at all,” U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan said. “We know we have a big, tough game ahead of us. We have faced some big challenges and because this is the final, this is the biggest one of all. We will be ready, and we are not taking anything for granted.”

According to the rankings, the biggest tests for the U.S. have already been faced, with world No. 3 England overcome in the semifinal and fourth-ranked France defeated in the quarters. However, the Netherlands – ranked eighth – are the reigning European champions and are continuing to establish themselves as one of the world’s premier women’s teams.

“They are a team that is hungry and has a point to prove,” U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle said. “They are going to give it everything, so we have to be just as committed and just as ready.”