USA vs. France 2011: France's Strong Performance Shows Tide Is Turning
The trials, tribulations and triumphs of Team USA may very well be the biggest story of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, or at least they certainly are back here in the states.
The next biggest development, though, and likely the most significant one overseas, is the emergence of a new world order in women's soccer.
The tournament began with a triumvirate of world powers, the US, Germany and Brazil, as the overwhelming favorites to come away with the Cup, and rightfully so, as those three sides were 1-2-3 in the FIFA Women's World Rankings.
Slowly but steadily, that field of giants was whittled down from three to two, with Germany's defeat at the hands of feisty Japan, and then from two to one, as the Americans ousted Marta and favored Brazil, both coming in the tournament quarterfinals.
The swift departure of the host Germans and the Brazilians gave way for other sides to steal the spotlight. Chief among them are Japan, who dominated Germany and Sweden on the way to the country's first-ever appearance in the World Cup Final. Now, behind the spectacular play of midfielder Homare Sawa, the fourth-ranked Japanese have a legitimate chance to bring hom the Cup for the first time.
Meanwhile, the French nearly stole Team USA's thunder in the first semifinal of the day, outshooting and outplaying the Americans for virtually the entire match before surrendering two late goals to Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. France, who currently sit seventh in the FIFA rankings, will face another up-and-comer, Sweden, in the third-place game on Saturday. Don't forget, the fifth-ranked Swedes dealt the Americans their only loss of the tournament and their first ever in pool play before falling to the aforementioned Japanese in the second semifinal match.
The guard won't truly have changed, though, unless Japan can somehow unseat the top-ranked American squad in Sunday's final.
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