Friday, September 28, 2007

Women's World Cup: Semi-finals

Germany 3-0 Norway
This matchup between two of the traditional powers of women's football was actually much closer than the score would suggest. Both teams started strongly, and it was a very fast, open game, with Germany and Norway taking it in turns to break downfield, and only some excellent tackles from both sides preventing a goal. Norway probably had the better of the early chances, but Germany were always looking to cause trouble with Birgit Prinz and Kerstin Garefrekes running at the Norwegian defenders. And it was Prinz who created the opening goal just before halftime: fed from the wing by Fatmire Bajramaj, who'd come on as a sub just moments before, she cut the ball back across the 6-yard box, only for Norway's Trine Ronning to head it into her own net.

Norway almost equalized from a corner soon after, but they were still trailing at halftime and Germany were the stronger team after the break. The Germans' second goal didn't come until the 70th minute, however, as Kerstin Stegemann looped the ball over the keeper and in off the far post. The third goal came just five minutes later, as Martina Mueller pounced on an underhit backpass to put the final nail in the coffin for Norway.

USA 0-4 Brazil
I have to admit that I was shocked by this result: the pre-tournament favourites beated by upstart Brazil. (Shocked, and a little bit gloating; that's what you get for that obnoxious Nike campaign.)

The big story obviously is coach Greg Ryan's decision to replace Hope Solo with Brianna Scurry in goal. Ryan's going to get a lot of stick for this, and rightly so; Solo gave up two goals in the USA's opening game against North Korea but hadn't put a foot wrong since, and she deserved to keep her place, no matter how experienced Scurry is. Ryan supposely felt that Scurry's shot-stopping ability was more suited to the Brazilian's style of play, but nevertheless, switching goalies partway through a tournament is just dumb. First of all there's the always touchy question of whether your keeper will be psychologically prepared and confident, and second there's the risk that you'll mess up the all-important communication between the keeper and the defenders. I suspect that's what led to the first goal, an own-goal from a corner: in the replay you could see Scurry calling for the ball, but Leslie Osborne intervened and headed it into her own net. And it's possible that Scurry was at fault for Brazil's second goal, too -- a low, hard shot by Marta that beat her at the near post.

The USA's problems were compounded by Shannon Boxx being sent off for a second yellow just before halftime -- a terrible call by the referee. It looked like Boxx and Cristiane had just gotten their feet tangled up accidentally, and both players went down together. Cristiane was actually behind Boxx at the time, so if anything the foul should have gone the other way. Even before that, though, the USA was finding it hard to contain Brazil, with the Brazilians' pace and skill on the ball giving them problems from the beginning. Brazil came out strongly in the second half and sliced open the USA again with a goal from Cristiane. After that they had the luxury of slowing the game down and showing off their tricks -- like Marta's flick over the defender for their fourth goal.

The final between Germany and Brazil should be very interesting. I think I've been underestimating Brazil because, although I knew that they could score goals, I suspected that their defence could be kind of shaky. So I'm curious to see what will happen when they come up against a team like Germany that has a solid defense and no problem scoring goals of their own. (Kind of like what I expected from the USA, actually.) I'll be cheering for Germany, like I usually do. I suppose Brazil are the underdogs, but they're still Brazil, and besides, I don't think I can cheer for a team that was diving like they were -- not to mention the way Cristiane celebrated when Boxx got sent off, which just left a bad taste in my mouth. I really have no idea who's going to win, though.

As for the third-place match, the big question is who'll get the start in goal for the USA. And also whether Hope Solo has found the time to punch Greg Ryan in the face.

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