June 27, 2011

World Cup: Day 3

Sweden vs. Colombia (8 am eastern)

The first match in Group C will feature perennial power Sweden against newcomer Colombia. There is certainly a contrast in age here, with Sweden being the second oldest team at the World Cup and Colombia being one of the youngest.

Sweden is always a force to be reckoned with in women's soccer and this team is no different. They return 12 players from their 2007 team which was eliminated for the first time in the group stage.

Their midfield features veteran Therese Sjogran and captain Caroline Seger, both of whom play in WPS. It will be up to these two to control the match and set up always dangerous forward Lotta Schelin. Schelin has 37 international goals and will pose a huge problem for Colombia's back line.

In fact, Sweden's size in general will give Colombia fits. Colombia has only one player listed as over 5-7 and they will have to deal with a much bigger Swedish team that includes Schelin and fellow striker Jessica Landstrom. Therefore, Colombia will need to stay away from set pieces, where they are at a huge disadvantage.

Sweden will miss defender Stina Segerstrom who is out with injury, but their back line is experienced and solid, led by Charlotte Rohlin and Sara Thunebro.

Colombia will rely on Catalina Usme and Yoreli Rincon on the offensive end of the field. 17-year old Rincon may prove to be one of the best young players in this tournament. Colombia must keep possesion as long as possible and make the taller Swedish team chase.

Hedvig Lindahl is one of the most experienced keepers in the world and she will give Sweden an edge in that department. Paula Forero led Colombia through qualifying, but Sandra Sepulveda is getting quite a few starts lately in goal for Colombia.

On defense, Colombia will count on Kelis Peduzine, their tallest and one of their most experienced players to keep Sweden in check.

It will be a study in contrasts, with Sweden having a huge advantage in size, experience, and depth. I believe that will be too much for the young Colombian team to overcome.

My Prediction: Sweden 4, Colombia 0

United States vs Korea DPR (12:15 pm eastern)

In an equally interesting study in contrasts, the United States will take on Korea DPR in the other Group C match. The bigger, stronger, and more experienced US team might have a little more problem with the technically strong team from Korea.

One problem for the United States is that, until recently, they probably haven't had much of chance to scout the Koreans. Korea had a huge tournament on their roster since they qualified last May and now boast nine players from their U-20 team. Korea DPR is the youngest team in the field.

The midfield battle will be paramount in this match. The United States two central midfielders, Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd, will need to be on top of their game. A turnover against the Koreans and you are likely to not get possession back for some time.

Their counterpart is Jo Yun Mi, who was the MVP of the Asian Cup last year. She is hugely talented and very dangerous on the offensive end. Another player to watch is Ra Un Sim, a forward that will test the American back line, one that has been plagued by injuries and has been exposed at times in recent losses.

The Americans will want to exploit their size advantage as they did against Japan in two recent friendlies. Abby Wambach poses a big problem for the Korean defense and she is one of the best in the world in the air. The US will need to make the most of their set pieces in this match.

The goalkeeping edge goes to the United States and Hope Solo. After missing much of the last year with a shoulder injury, she is back and looking strong as ever. Solo will keep the United States in most games, no matter how well they are playing in front of her.

Korea will probably go with Hong Myong Hui, who posted three shutouts in the Asian Cup and another two in the Asian Games last fall. She was the starting keeper for Korea in the U-20 World Cup last year and the U-17 World Cup before that.

The United States has huge advantage in size and experience. But they can have problems against technically superior squads like Korea DPR is likely to be. They can ill-afford to fall behind such a team. Korea will need to limit the US opportunities on set pieces and will be at their best with the ball on the ground and at their feet.

The US is also facing a lot of pressure in this World Cup. Their outward appearance is one of confidence, but there has been heavy criticism thrown their way in recent months and they will no doubt be under more pressure than Korea in this match. They have a history of starting slowly and Korea DPR might be able to take advantage of that.

This will be a close match. I think the US might have a slight edge overall, but worry about their inconsistency over the past few months, as well as their back line's injuries and speed.

My Prediction: United States 1, Korea DPR 1