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FIFA Women’s World Cup Semi-Finals Preview: USA Vs France
Bookies Favorites are USA
Before their semi-final match with France, in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, on July 13, the USA must be considered the overwhelming favorites to win. And bookies are making the USA favorites to win the world cup too, offering odds of 6/5. In comparison, France is quoted at 9/2, Sweden at 3/1 and Japan at 5/1.
Overconfidence Likely to Be the Biggest Danger to the USA
But the USA must guard against overconfidence. After beating a strong team like Brazil in the quarter-finals, the idea of taking on a relatively weaker team like France, for a place in the finals, could induce complacency.
Upset is always around the corner, just waiting to happen, Ask Germany. How many football fans thought that Japan would beat champions Germany, in their quarter-final? But it happened, and Germany suffered their first defeat in the world cup in 12 years. And as in the case of Germany against Japan, the USA is arguably better equipped than France, both physically and in terms of football skills. While there is no denying that France have shown more creativity in midfield, the USA have been more resolute in defence, and their trans-Atlantic rivals are likely to find USA striker Wambach difficult to handle, especially when they will have to wrestle with air balls.
End to End Record
The two sides have met six times on a football pitch, in the past, and the USA have won five of those games with one ending in a goalless situation. The last time these teams met was in March 2006, when the Americans won 4-1 over their European rivals.
USA, France Had Similar Quarter-Final Clashes
If the USA escaped defeat against Brazil thanks to a late goal, so did France who equalized in the 88th minute of regulation time, and went on to beat England on the penalty spot, just as the USA did against Brazil. So France are likely to be as encouraged and inspired, by their performance in the quarter-finals, as the Americans, on their own.
How USA Made it to the Semis
The North Americans were lucky to have a second minute lead against their South American rivals, thanks to an own goal from Daiane. The match was marred by controversy after Brazilian striker Marta was brought down in the penalty area by Rachel Buehler. Cristiane’s resulting penalty was saved by USA goalkeeper Solo, and then retaken after the referee adjudged a foul. Marta took the second shot, and made sure she beat Solo, this time.
The United States will not have Rachel Buehler, in their starting eleven, in the game in France, as the player was sent off the field by the referee, during the Brazil game. While France are unlikely to mount as strong a challenge as Brazil, the USA will need to play hard with their best 11 players, in order to send a strong message to Sweden, their likely rivals in the final round. To that extent, they will miss Buehler.
Also, the Americans need to build on the momentum they generated during the match with Brazil; they would therefore not want a weak performance against France to spoil that momentum, even if they won the semi-final.
Earlier in the tournament, the United States cruised through their first two group games, beating North Korea 2-0, on the back of second-half goals from Lauren Cheney and Buehler. In the second match, Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd scored to help the USA through to the quarter-finals with a 3-0 demolition of Colombia. Then came a 2-1 loss to Sweden in a match that was dominated by the Europeans.
In the run-up to the world cup, the USA were beaten by Mexico in the semi-finals of the Concacaf, and their world cup qualification depended on a play-off with Italy. Fortunately, the USA won 1-0 in each leg of the two-legged contest, to make the trip to Germany possible.
Key Players for USA
Among the key players for the USA will be striker Abby Wambach whose header saved her team from going down 2-1 in extra time against Brazil. Hope Solo between the posts is one of the best keepers in the game, and her superb performance in the penalty shootout against Brazil is one of the main reasons why the USA are in the semi-finals instead of their Southern rivals. America in the quarter-finals.
How France Made it to the Semis
Interestingly, both teams have come through quarter-final matches similar to the semi-finals. France dominated their game against England and yet fell back to a deficit of 1-0 following Jill Scott’s shot, at the end of the second third of the game. We had to wait until there were about two minutes of regulation left, before Elise Bussaglia brought them level, from the edge of the box.
With the game pushed into the tie, France got off to a scary start to the penalty shoot-out, as Camily Abily watched in horror as the England keeper kept out her shot. But the French team more than compensated when Claire Rafferty and Faye White failed to score for England, and France took advantage of all their remaining shots.
En route to the quarter-finals, the French began their group campaign with a quiet 1-0 win over Nigeria. They took a more aggressive step in their next game against Canada, which they defeated 4-0, riding on a brace of goals from Gaetane Thiney, apart from a goal each from Abily and Elodie Thomis. In the third group game in France, Delie and Laura Georges scored consolation goals in a 4-2 hammering by the defending champions.
France were superb in the run-up to the world cup, winning all 10 matches in their UEFA European qualifying groups.
Key Players for France
For France, all eyes will be on Bussaglia who helped her American counterpart, Wambach, to clinch victory from defeat by scoring a late equalizer against England to take their quarter-finals to a penalty shoot-out. Apart from the draw that secured the goal, the quality of the shot he beat from 20 yards out underlined Bussaglia’s quality. Gaetane Thiney and Louisa Necib are other players who impressed against England and came close to scoring in the game.
The American women will be thirsty for revenge against Sweden who beat them 2-1 in their group game. But the Americans must first beat France, on Wednesday, in Moenchengladbach, before they can make that happen.
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