Ali Krieger has waited her whole life to play in a World Cup, and every step of her colorful soccer journey -- from an illness that threatened her life to four years spent living in the very city where Sunday's showdown with Japan will be held -- appears to have prepped her for what could be her finest hour. And in preparation for the championship game, Krieger and her United States teammates have been meticulous in getting ready.
Well, almost everything.
If the match goes to penalty kicks, like the USA's dramatic quarterfinal win over Brazil, Krieger would be in line once more to take the fifth, and possibly decisive, kick. The shot itself? No problem. A celebration to match Brandi Chastain's iconic shirt removal in 1999? More of a dilemma.
"I have thought about what might happen and the possibility that it could go to penalties and that it could be down to me," Krieger tells ThePostGame.com. "I am ready for it and the responsibility and I am confident I can handle it.
"Everyone remembers Brandi's winning penalty kick and her celebration and to have the opportunity to repeat that would be amazing. I don't have any celebration planned, though. Being a defender I don't score many goals so I have never really come up with one. I will have to start thinking of something."
Confidence among the American players is soaring and the squad senses that the fates are on their side. A relaxed yet focused vibe courses through the camp leading up to the clash at Commerzbank Arena, and some players have used their post-semifinal downtime to allow Krieger to play tour guide.
The 26-year-old spent four years with leading German side FFC Frankfurt, moving to Europe after graduating from Penn State in 2007. As the only member of the U.S. team to speak the language, she has been besieged by German reporters throughout the tournament.
"Since we drove into Frankfurt it has been nothing but questions of where to go and what to see, where to eat and what is the best thing in Frankfurt," Krieger says. "I know my favorite places and what I like to do. I just tell them to go into the city and enjoy it. We don't have much time here so whatever you can see, do it. It is a nice place."
Krieger comes across as a happy-go-lucky character, with a smile rarely leaving her face. Yet her path to the top of her sport, and indeed her life itself, hit a severe roadblock six years ago.
During her junior season at Penn State, Krieger experienced a strange discomfort while breathing one night and arranged for a doctor's appointment the following morning. However, her boyfriend at the time, football player Brent Wise, insisted she should seek treatment immediately.
The diagnosis was shocking -- blood clots in her lungs had resulted in a pulmonary embolism and several small heart attacks.
"If I had fallen asleep that night," Krieger says. "I would probably never have woken up again."
A grueling series of treatments followed over a six-month period that put Krieger's soccer career on temporary hold. Now, those memories are distant, although the experience has made Krieger cherish her opportunities more than ever.
"Any time something like that happens to you, it is going to change you," she says. "I appreciate things more and I understand how lucky I am. Lucky to be healthy, lucky to be playing and definitely lucky to be about to play in a World Cup final."
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