Friday, June 26, 2015

Women'a World Cup Day 15: Germany wins a thriller to meet up with USA in semis

Germany 1-1 France (5-4 in penalties)
This was billed as the match of the tournament, so far, and boy did it live up to the hype.
France was most impressive in the first half as they outshot b their German opponents 14-6. In a match that I expect to be a German rout with France just hanging on and trying their best just to stay alive, they not only kept in the game, they were the better team for the first 45 minutes. Luisa Necib gave France their just reward in the 64th minute. She collected clearance near the top of the box and her shot made it beyond Nadine Angerer after a deflection off a German defender.

France was quite content sitting back and defending the German attacking machine for the remainder of the match and it ultimately failed them. At the stroke of 81 minutes, Amel Majri handled the ball in the box to give Germany a penalty. Celia Sacic buried the attempt to level the score at one.

It stayed tied through the 90 minutes and extra time was needed to separate the sides. After a fairly balanced 27 minutes of extra soccer, France and a golden opportunity to win the match. Majri had a perfect chance to atone for her handball as she received a pass in the six yard box with a wide open goal, but failed to get the shot on target and it bumbled wide.

Things went on to penalties. Both sides scored on their first four attempts and Germany buried their fifth. The final shooter for France, Claire Lavogez, had her low shot saved by Angerer to send Germany onward.

United States 0-0 China
The USA should have gone ahead after only a minute when Amy Rodriguez got free between China's center backs an was alone against the goalkeeper. She tried to chip a shot with the inside of her preferred left foot, but it sailed extremely wide. They were starting quickly against the inexperienced Chinese, which created some other nice chances in the opening minutes as well.

Coming into the match, the main question was who would step up for the suspended Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holliday, both of whom have been important for the USA attack. Morgan Bryan and Kelly O'Hara started in their place, and with them in the lineup instead the USA attack didn't seem to miss a beat. It was more of the same that we saw in the first four matches. There was lots of possession, a few great chances, and very few goals. The other change made by the USA was the addition of the speedy Rodriguez over the aging Abby Wambach. Her speed was instrumental in this match, but her finishing, as she showed in the second minute, left a lot to be desired.

The telling quote of the first half was when color commentator Cat Whitehill said, "Even when they are playing well, the USA can't score." That one sentence has summed up the USA's entire World Cup. They dominated first half possession almost 60-40 over China. They were shooting like crazy, but none of the shots were going in. After Rodriguez's missed chance, the next real opportunity came towards of the half. The USA took a quick free quick in the 26th minute that caught the Chinese defense off guard.It led to a shot that had to be cleared off the line by China's defenders.  Despite all the time spend in China's defensive end, there was no end product and the score was 0-0 at halftime.

The finish finally came in the 51st minute. Julie Johnston, who has been the unsung hero of the USA back line, lobbed in a long ball that found the head of Carli Lloyd then the back of the net.  Their style of play did not noticeably change after the goal. They kept possession and continued trying to turn that into goals. China did mount a minor threat in the 64th minute with a series of passes that almost created a threatening shot, but the USA defense held firm as it has all tournament.

They didn't score again and took a 1-0 victory into the semifinals against Germany.
I have been, and continue to be, worried about the USA's chances against the best team in the world. Germany didn't have their best game against France today. It took penalties for them to make it through and their lone goal came off a flukey hand ball. But their defense was solid. The only goal they gave up was the result of an unlucky deflection. While they may have been lucky not to concede in overtime, nothing the USA has done has allowed me to think that they can replicate France's near upset performance. In fact, I see them getting just as unlucky as the French were in that second period of extra time.

The one thing going the right way for the USA is their defending. They have gone four straight games without conceding. The only goal they gave up came in the 22nd minute of their opening match. Germany can score goals, but against a defense as tough as the USA's they will have to work their tails off to get them.

If Germany-France was the match of the tournament so far, this one will hopefully exceed it. It is number one against number two in the world, so how can it be anything but a thrill? The winner of this one should be considered the favorite in the final, that's for sure.

Tomorrow's Matches
The quarterfinals finish up tomorrow evening with two exciting matches. First up, at 4pm, the defending champions Japan square off against surprise quarterfinalists Australia. You can never count the Aussies out after their win against Brazil, but they will have a hard time repeating that feat. I say Japan wins it 2-1.

At 7:30, the Canadian hosts take on England as they try to make their second ever World Cup semifinal. Both sides have proven to be stout defenders as they have both made their way through this tournament by scoring little, but allowing less. I think this will be a 0-0 draw before penalties will have to decide things. I'll give the nod to the home side. Canada makes their way through by chance.

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