June 26, 2011

World Cup: Day 2

Japan vs. New Zealand (9 am eastern)

These two teams met at the group stage of the 2008 Olympics with the match ending in a 2-2 tie. All four goal scorers from that match will be playing on Monday, Aya Miyama and Homare Sawa for Japan and Amber Hearn and Kirsty Yallop for New Zealand.

Japan played sluggish soccer in two matches against the United States in May. An early sign in this game will be how well they are passing the ball and maintaining possession. If they are on, especially Miyama and Sawa, it will be hard for New Zealand to beat them. Japan may also test the Ferns' back line early on as well. The speedy Shinobu Ohno could pose problems for New Zealand's defense, as could Megumi Takase.

Miyama is very accurate on free kicks and corners, so the Ferns will want to surrender as few of those chances as possible. It will also be interesting if young Mana Iwabuchi makes an appearance in this match.

Japan has a rather smallish back line, so New Zealand might want to try a few balls in the air, particularly with a pair of their tall forwards, Hannah Wilkinson and Hearn. New Zealand also needs to make the most of their set pieces.

New Zealand will need to keep their mistakes to a minimum and rely on the leadership of their more experienced players such as Hayley Moorwood and Rebecca Smith. Jenny Bindon is a solid keeper and she might give an edge to the Ferns in the goalkeeping department. Ali Riley is a world class defender and can be a threat to get into the attack as well.

I think this match comes down to technical ability and possession which will give an edge to Japan. If New Zealand has to spend the day chasing Japan, they will eventually wear down.

My Prediction: Japan 3, New Zealand 1

England vs. Mexico (12 pm eastern)

This could be a truly interesting match, with the young squad from Mexico challenging the strong English side. There is no doubt that the English have more weapons in their arsenal, but Mexico will seize on opportunities as they proved against the United States last November.

The game features two very good forwards. Kelly Smith is one of the best in the world and combines strength, ability, and brains to menace opposing defenses. She can draw the defense toward her and then release a pass to an open teammate. But any one of several other English forwards can be handful as well, including Jess Clarke, Eni Aluko, and Rachel Yankey.

Maribel Dominguez is also very talented and quick. She will probably have a more difficult task, because the English defense can concentrate on her, while England has several players that can score on the offensive end. Dinora Garza and Stephany Mayor will have to help their teammate carry the load. Nayeli Rangel will be an important figure in the Mexican midfield.

England is a big team with Smith, Jill Scott, and Faye White. Mexico will be better with the ball on the ground and must avoid giving up set pieces in their own end of the field, because Fara Williams is excellent in such situations and if within range, Kelly Smith can score off free kicks as well.

Watch to see how Mexico's back line, including Alina Garciamendez, Luz Saucedo, and Natalie Vinti hold up under pressure. Mexico needs to keep possession and the ball at their feet, where they can do the most damage.

The goalkeeping matchup should be an interesting contrast as well, with Karen Bardsley going for England and probably Cecilia Santiago going for Mexico.

England will be more used to the World Cup atmosphere than the young Mexican team and that should give them an advantage. I believe England has too many weapons and Mexico will have trouble dealing with English set pieces.

My Prediction: England 3, Mexico 1