Beauty and the beast. One will triumph in the W Gold Cup final on Sunday

March 8 – The inaugural W Gold Cup concludes Sunday with the USA facing Brazil in the Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego. World ranked two against number 11 in the first major women’s championship of 2024 with eyes also focussed on form going into the 2024 Olympics.

The final will showcase the best and most resilient teams of South and North America. It is a clash of styles from two teams who in the US’s case are used to sitting on top of the world, and Brazil’s case feel that they should be.

Both teams are in transformational changes and this final will indicate how far progressed they are on that journey. It will be a match that contrasts playing styles, football philosophies and individual skills.

The US beat Canada on penalties on a night of high drama in San Diego on Wednesday night in conditions that started as barely playable but eased over the course of a match that went into extra time and was decided on penalties.

Canada equalised in added time at the end of extra time, taking the game to a penalty shoot-out. The US hero was goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher who saved three of Canada’s spot kicks and scored her own penalty in a climax to a thrilling semi-final.

For the US it was an important win after having been well beaten by Mexico in their group stages. For Twila Kilgore, who is babysitting the US team until the arrival of Chelsea manager Emma Hayes in May, after three matches of wholesale changes to her starting line-up she opened with the same XI who began in the 3-0 win over Colombia in the quarter final.

While the athleticism of the US team can’t be questioned, they are struggling to unpick defences. The US are best when the encounter is a physical challenge and are unafraid to mix it, but they have been caught square in defence and have yet to really start to firing in attack with combinations that join up their play.

With Kilgore looking to have found a secure starting line-up, then continuity should follow. Jaedyn Shaw showed against Canada she is hungry for the battle and goals, and Sophia Smith scored in added time to remind Kilgore of her abilities. Trinity Rodman looks like she should be a gamechanger with her pace, but she still has work to do on the big stage.

Brazil will be a mighty challenge. The Brazilians have been consistent with their personnel throughout the tournament and have improved game to game.

Brazil’s strengths are in the confidence of their individual abilities to one the footballing one-on-one battles. They have a fluid back three who have both physical presence but are also the base from which they build their play – Rafaelle and Tarciane are outstanding.

Up front Bia Zanaretto has been outstanding in and around the box, Yasmim is a danger in whatever part of the pitch she is operating and Debinha has an eye for goal and a shot to go with it. But really when the Brazilians are in full flow can score from anywhere.

If they have a weakness it is their goalkeeper who has yet to be really tested.

The final will be a clash of styles and a test of resolve. The US have plenty of resolve and Brazil know all about style. Only one can lift the trophy.

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