Women's World Cup 2011 France vs USA: Previewing Semifinals Matchup
Now that all of our heart rates have finally slowed after the excitement of the USA versus Brazil quarterfinal match Sunday, it's time to look ahead to Team USA's semifinal matchup versus France.
This is not at all what anyone expected when we first saw the brackets for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.
The US was supposed to be in the semifinals, but playing Germany on the other side of the table, with Brazil waiting in the final.
But the US couldn't close the deal in Group C and had to take out Marta and No. 3 Brazil in the quarters to get here.
They'll be facing a French team that wasn't expected to be here at all.
Christine Sinclair was supposed to lead Canada out of Group A, but France's young stars demolished them to make it out of the group stage for the first time (in only their second World Cup appearance), and after defeating England on penalties, France is in their first-ever semifinal.
This match has all the makings of a thrilling semifinal. The US has been eliminated in the semifinals of the past two World Cups, and France is making their first appearance at this stage in any major tournament.
The US has never lost to France, but France's young and inexperienced stars are playing some inspired football.
With one flaw.
France can't put it in the back of the net.
They scored four goals against Canada, but that was more due to the latter's poor play all over the pitch.
France only beat Nigeria 1-0, missing a host of chances, and the fact that England took France to penalties when France had dominated possession in England's final third was almost entirely due to France's inability to finish their chances.
France plays possession football, but they'll be coming up against their toughest defense yet (Germany was incredibly disappointing in this tournament), and they can't waste their chances this time.
Hope Solo has allowed only four goals so far this tournament, two of which came from the penalty spot and one from a deflected free kick. The fourth was a bit of magic and luck from Marta.
Overall, Solo has been stellar.
France's goalkeeping has not been nearly as solid.
Berangere Sapowicz was untested against Nigeria and Canada, and then she broke down and was sent off for a foolish foul against Germany. Her replacement, Celine Deville, is not all that experienced either.
The fact that France has made it this far is due to their ability to keep the ball, but they won't find it so easy to do against the US.
The US hasn't been hugely impressive so far this World cup, but they're in the semifinals, which is what matters.
They played nervous against Sweden, which led to the loss, but they played aggressive and fiery against Brazil.
They'll need to remain patient and keep the ball better than they have, but this game could come down to the one thing (besides the officiating) that also separated the US from Brazil: conditioning.
The US team plays together and trains more than any other team at the tournament (besides maybe Germany), and they also receive the most support from back home.
Even down a player for almost half of the game, the US didn't tire against Brazil. After regulation the Brazilians were the ones with players down—trying to catch their breaths.
If the US can pass the ball around and make France chase, they'll tire the French out just as they did the Brazilians.
The US also has the experience of captain Christie Rampone (the only player left from the victorious 1999 team), Abby Wambach and more veterans to fire up the younger players.
And the US has more heart than anyone—that's for sure.
It remains to be seen who will replace Rachel Buehler—suspended due to a straight red against Brazil—in the US back line, but the game will be played in the midfield.
Heather O'Reilly and Lauren Cheney provide the US plenty of speed from the midfield, and Megan Rapinoe was the super-sub against both Colombia and Brazil.
France is riding high on their best tournament performance ever, but the US is riding a high of their own.
This World Cup has been strange enough, seeing Germany and Brazil exit in the quarters, but Team USA won't be following them out Wednesday.
The US is going back to the World Cup final.
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