USA Are Bookies’ Favourites
Ahead of their semi-final match with France, in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, on July 13, USA must be considered the overwhelming favourites to win. And bookmakers make USA favourites to win the world cup as well, offering odds of 6/5. In comparison, France are quoted at 9/2, Sweden at 3/1 and Japan at 5/1.
Overconfidence Likely To Be Biggest Danger For USA
But USA must guard against overconfidence. Having beaten a strong team like Brazil in the quarter-finals, the notion of taking on a relatively weaker team like France, for a place in the finals, could induce complacency.
An upset is always round the corner, just waiting to happen, Ask Germany. How many football fans thought Japan would beat champions Germany, in their quarter-finals? But it did happen, and Germany were handed their first world cup loss in 12 years. And as in the case of Germany against Japan, USA are arguably the better equipped than France, both physically and in terms of football skills. While there’s no denying the fact that France have displayed more creativity in midfield, USA have been more resolute in defence, and their trans-Atlantic rivals are likely to find USA striker Wambach hard to handle, especially when they have to contend with aerial balls.
Head To Head Record
The two sides have met six times on a football field, in the past, and USA have won five of those matches with one ending in a goalless stalemate. The last time these teams met was in March 2006, when the Americans won 4-1 over their European rivals.
USA, France Have Had Similar Quarter-final Clashes
If USA escaped defeat against Brazil thanks to a late goal, so did France who got an equaliser in the 88th minute of regulation time, and went on to beat England in a penalty shoot out, much as USA did against Brazil. So France are likely to be as upbeat and inspired, by their performance in the quarter-finals, as the Americans, by their own.
How USA Got To The Semis
The North Americans were lucky to get a second minute lead against their South American rivals, thanks to an own goal by Daiane. The match was marred by controversy after Brazil striker Marta was brought down in the penalty area by Rachel Buehler. The resultant penalty taken by Cristiane was saved by USA keeper Solo, and then retaken after the referee ruled that there had been an infringement. Marta took the second shot, and made sure that she beat Solo, this time.
The United States will not have Rachel Buehler, in their starting eleven, in the France game, as the player was sent off by the referee, during the Brazil match. While France are unlikely to pose as strong a challenge as Brazil, USA will need to field their best eleven players, and play hard, so as to send a strong message to Sweden, their likely rivals in the final. 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-finals.
Earlier, in the tournament, the US strolled through their first two group matches, beating North Korea 2-0, on the back of second half goals by Lauren Cheney and Buehler. In the second match, Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd scored to help USA through to the quarter-finals with a 3-0 demolition of Colombia. Then came a 2-1 defeat to Sweden in a game dominated by the Europeans.
In the run up to the world cup, USA were beaten by Mexico in the Concacaf semi-finals, and their world cup qualification hinged on a play-off with Italy. Happily, USA won 1-0 in each leg of the two-legged contest, to make the trip to Germany possible.
Key Players For USA
Key players for USA will include striker Abby Wambach whose header rescued 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 brilliant performance in the penalty shoot out against Brazil is a major reason why USA are in the semi-finals instead of their South American rivals of the quarter-finals.
How France Got To The Semis
Interestingly, both teams have come through similar close quarter-final games to the semi-finals. France dominated their match against England and yet fell back to 1-0 deficit following Jill Scott’s strike, at the end of the second third of the game. They had to wait till about two minutes of regulation were left, before Elise Bussaglia brought them level, from the edge of the box.
With the game pushed into a tie breaker, France had a horrific start to the penalty shoot outs, when Camily Abily watched in horror as the England keeper kept her shot out. But the French side were more than compensated when both Claire Rafferty and Faye White failed to score for England, and France capitalised on all their remaining shots.
En route to the quarter-finals, the Frenchwomen began their group campaign with a quiet 1-0 win over Nigeria. They got into a more aggressive stride in tyheir next match against Canada, whom they vanquished by a 4-0 margin, riding on a brace of goals by Gaetane Thiney, apart from one goal each by Abily and Elodie Thomis. In France’s third group game, Delie and Laura Georges scored consolation goals in a 4-2 hammering by the defending champions.
France were brilliant in the run up to the world cup, winning all 10 of their UEFA European qualifying group matches.
Key Players For France
For France, all eyes will be on Bussaglia who like her American counterpart, Wambach, helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring a late equaliser against England to take their quarter-finals to a penalty shoot out. Apart from the draw that the goal ensured, it was the quality of the shot that curled in from 20 yards out that underlined Bussaglia’s calibre. 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 thirsting for revenge against Sweden who beat them 2-1 in their group encounter. But the Americans must beat France first, on Wednesday, at Moenchengladbach, before they can make that happen.