Saturday, September 29, 2007

Women’s World Cup Final & Third Place Previews

by du Nord reader Adam

Final

Germany v Brazil
-Sun Sep 30
6:55am on ESPN2

After soundly beating the Norwegians 3-0 in the semis, Germany became the only team in Women’s World Cup history to reach the final without conceding a single goal. The team’s offense also leads the competition, finding net 19 times.

And Brazil is right behind them.

For a team known to have a questionable defense, Brazil only allowed 2 goals throughout the tournament. They’re also second to Germany in scoring, with 17 goals. And, because it can’t be reiterated enough, Brazil has Marta.

Marta scored twice against the USA in the semifinals, becoming the tournament’s leading scorer with 7 goals. But Brazil showed in that semifinal match that its offense doesn’t have to go through Marta alone. Cristiane bagged a goal, too, and looked dangerous on several occasions. And, midfielders Daniela, Formiga, and Maycon ran the US defense ragged all game long.

Germany counters Brazil’s offensive firepower with stalwart Kerstin Stegemann, who has been her team’s best defensive player, and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. Angerer was a bit of a question mark heading into the tournament after Germany’s starting keeper, Silke Rottenberg, picked up an injury in March. But Angerer has had a fine tournament so far, stopping the few chances that made it through the defensive wall in front of her.

On offense, Germany’s Birgit Prinz might not be as speedy or flashy as Marta, but she’s just as adept at putting the ball in the back of the net. She has help, too, from Kerstin Garefrekes and Renate Lingor. The only questionable offensive player for Germany has been Sandra Smisek. A veteran of the German team, Smisek scored 3 goals in the opening match against Argentina; since then, she’s been more of a liability up front than a weapon. Substitute Fatmire Bajramaj, a 19 year old speedster, has looked dangerous each time coach Silvia Neid has used her. She could certainly put Brazil’s defense under more pressure than Smisek.

Verdict: Even though Brazil looked unstoppable against the United States, the emotional and physical stress of that game—it was more like a final for the Brazilians than a semi—might tire the players. Coach Jorge Barcellos didn’t help matters, deciding not to use a single sub against the US even after his team was winning comfortably. Brazil comes into Sunday’s final with one day less of rest than Germany. Will fatigue be a factor?

This match-up pits two distinct styles against one another. The Germans are known for their technical precision. They don’t constantly attack, like Brazil. Instead, they probe teams, as though they were playing chess, looking for weaknesses. Brazil relies on individual brilliance and a free-flowing attack to win, and even though the team looked extremely organized against the US, Germany probably won’t have a meltdown like team USA.

If the Samba Queens don’t play as well collectively as they did against the US, Germany will be more than able to expose the team’s defense gaps.


Third Place Match

USA v Norway
-Sun Sep 30
3:55am on ESPN2

USA versus Norway was one of the greatest women’s soccer rivalries in the ‘90s. Now, it’s strange to see these teams battling it out for a bronze medal.

For the Norwegians, who weren’t expected to the reach the final anyway, a top three finish would be a great accomplishment on the team’s road to regaining its status as a women’s soccer superpower. Already, the team displayed some flashes of brilliance in the tournament, playing more technically than ever before. Talented midfielders Ingvild Stensland and Lene Storlokken proved the Norwegians can play the ball on the ground through midfield and don’t need to rely on long passes from the defense. Young strikers Isabell Herlovsen, who scored the game winner against China in the quarterfinals, and Leni Larsen Kaurin gave strong performances in the tournament and look poised to become the scoring personalities the team has been lacking for a few years.

Goalkeeper controversy aside, the US team looked entirely outmatched against Brazil. Now, after that devastating semifinal loss, the US team—like Norway—is out to prove they’re still capable of competing with the elite teams in women’s soccer. But, the team will have to play without two key players.

Shannon Boxx won’t be in the US line-up after she received her second yellow card in the semifinal for being tripped by a Brazilian player. Look for Greg Ryan to either start Carli Lloyd or Aly Wagner in her place. And in goal, the US will be playing with Brianna Scurry—not Hope Solo. Solo was not allowed to practice with the team for the consolation match and will not be on the bench when they take on Norway.

Verdict: The US has never placed lower than 3rd in a Women’s World Cup, and this team will be out to keep that record alive. Even though the fallout from Ryan’s decision not to play Solo, and from her comments to the media, put all the pressure directly on the Americans, team USA will be eager to erase the bad memories from what has been a turbulent World Cup for them and go out on a high note.
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