The women's World Cup final is a microcosm of women's soccer.
It represents where soccer has come from and where it is going.
The United States plays Japan in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup final Sunday.
The Americans will be looking to become the first team to win three World Cups, the last coming in 1999. The United States has won a medal in each World Cup since the tournament's inception in 1991.
Japan has never been a football power but the Japanese women now represent all that is new and good with women's football.
They represent the advancement of the game not only in their own country but also in many countries. So much so that a blowout game has become the exception rather than an expectation at this World Cup.
Twenty years ago, the United States defeated Brazil 5-0 in the World up while Japan lost 8-0 to Sweden.
In this World Cup, Japan defeated Sweden in a semifinal after defeating stunning home town Germany. In another quarterfinal, the United States staged a miracle comeback to defeat Brazil and then had their hands full with France in the semifinal.
This quality and improvement of women's play in this tournament speaks volumes to how much more seriously nations have begun to take the sport and how much money they are investing in their programs.
It used to be a simple process predicting a winner in women's football. It would either be the United States, Germany, Norway, Sweden or China. For those who didn't notice, China didn't even make the World Cup this time around. Neither did a strong Italian squad.
By the way, this U.S. team is looking to win its third World Cup . . . they needed to beat Italy in an elimination two-game playoff to win the last spot in the World Cup. That's how close the United States came to not even making the tournament.
Germany won't make the 2012 Olympic Games because of their early elimination from this World Cup. It will be Sweden and France representing Europe.
Nothing that happens Sunday should come as a surprise to anyone. It's been that kind of tournament.
This U.S. team is a far cry from the highly talented squads of years gone by. But it is talented enough to stay close in a game. When you couple that with the kind of never-quit determinism this team has shown, no game is ever settled.
The Japanese have shown an ability to not only attack but also to defend well. They are tireless workers, patient in their build-up and well organized. Their quickness away from the ball opens passing avenues that create problems with slower opponents.
The Americans are bigger and have better goaltending. The Japanese are quicker.
The Americans have Abby Wambach, a deadly player in the air. The Japanese have Homare Sawa, a tremendous opportunist and a true leader on the field.
Who will the neutrals support now that Germany is out?
The Americans have gained some support with the way they have played, but German fans wouldn't want to see the U.S. become the first team to reach three World Cup wins.
Japan is going into the game as major underdogs and everyone likes to see an underdog do well.
But it's more than that.
After the devastation of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese women have been a feel good story in Japan.
It has driven the Japanese players to do everything they can to perform better. Before the match against Germany, their coach showed them pictures of what the earthquake and tsunami did.
Defeating the United States would be a massive undertaking for the Japanese. The Americans are far more experienced and have more depth.
But the Japanese have already done more than anyone expected. Now few people expect them to defeat the United States.
It's the same situation they faced going in against the Germans on the Germans' home turf.
No one needs to remind anyone how that worked out.