June 28, 2011

World Cup: Day 4

Norway vs. Equatorial Guinea (9am eastern)

It some ways, Norway is in an enviable position. On Wednesday, they will face the lowest ranked team at this year's World Cup and that team is missing a few of the top players that got them there. But there is also the unknown to deal with and Equatorial Guinea certainly represents a bit of a mystery at this point.

Of course, to be fair, Norway is missing many of the players that got through qualifying as well. Lise Klaveness, Toril Akerhaugen, and Lisa Marie Woods were an integral part of Norwegian qualification for the 2011 FIFA World Cup and none of them will be playing for Norway in Germany. Nor will Solveig Gulbrandsen who has since retired.

Norway has had some trouble scoring goals this year. Their best options are a trio of young forwards Isabell Herlovsen, Elise Thorsnes, and Cecilie Pedersen. Herlovsen scored six goals in a qualification match against Macedonia. Thorsnes and Pedersen recently scored five goals between them in a friendly against Finland.

Norway looks to their midfield for experience, particularly the great Ingvild Stensland, who is among the best defensive midfielders in the world. Lene Mykjaland is another talented midfielder that Equatorial Guinea must deal with. It's more experience in goal for Norway with Ingrid Hjelmseth. Maren Mjelde is a very good young defender.

With Jade Boho out, the player to watch for Equatorial Guinea will be Genoveva Anonman. There will be a lot on the shoulders of Anonman in this match. She is one of the few players on the team with a generous amount of international and club experience.

Hjelmseth should have the advantage in goal over Miriam, both in experience and ability. It is likely that Miriam will be subjected to more pressure than Hjelmseth as well.

Look to see how Equatorial Guinea comes out. If they appear nervous early on, this could be a very long day for them. Their lack of international experience and match play leading up to this World Cup could be telling. However, if they can string some passes together and get into a rhythm, perhaps they can give Norway a run for their money.

Norway is usually built on defense. If they can keep their defensive shape and keep mistakes at a minimum, they should be able to keep EG at bay. As in most matches, the midfield will be the key battleground. Anonman has a lot of experience in the Frauen Bundesliga, so she is used to European soccer.

Heat may also be a factor in this match. One would think that Equatorial Guinea would be more used to hot conditions than Norway. But Norway has played more soccer and may be more match fit at this point. We saw how conditions seem to bother the Nigerians more than France on Sunday.

One doesn't know quite what to expect from Equatorial Guinea in this match, but Norway has the edge in several categories, so it would hard to see them losing this match.

My Prediction: Norway 3, Equatorial Guinea 0.

Brazil vs. Australia (12:15 pm eastern)

This is a rematch of a 2007 quarterfinal match that Brazil won 3-2. In that match, Brazil jumped out to an early two goal lead. Brazil dominated for most of the match, but Australia stormed back and tied the match, before Cristiane scored the game winner in the 75th minute. Brazil has eight starters from that match back for 2011 and Australia has six, so you can bet there will be plenty of players that well remember that match.

This match features three of the top scorers from the 2007 World Cup, all of whom scored in that match, Marta, Cristiane, and Lisa De Vanna. Both teams are known for their offense more than their defense, so we might see a bit of scoring in this match as well.

The Brazilians are now a mature soccer team. Many of their players have been through at least one World Cup and an Olympics. They will certainly be one of the favorites in Germany. Australia has a young team by comparison and defense is one area where that youth is underscored.

The young Australian defense will have to play solid against the skilled Brazilians. They will have to withstand a lot of pressure and keep from being mesmerized by the superior technical skills of their opponent. At age 23, Kim Carroll is the senior member of that back line and the most experienced. Veteran keeper Melissa Barbieri will have to keep her young defense organized in front of her.

The Aussies certainly have attacking weapons and a pretty experienced group in the midfield led by Heather Garriock and Collette McCallum. They will need to shut down Brazilian passing lanes and hopefully, start counterattacks.

Lisa De Vanna is no doubt the most dangerous offensive player for the Aussies. In the absence of Kate Gill, her striking partner is likely to be Kyah Simon or possibly, Samantha Kerr. The Matildas will have to take advantage of their scoring opportunities which are likely to be far fewer than their Brazilian counterparts.

Brazil can methodically break down opposing defenses or they can strike lightning quick. Marta will undoubtedly draw numerous defenders toward her, leaving more room for Cristiane to attack. Formiga is a great organizer in the midfield and unless the Aussies can shut her down, they are in for a very long day.

Brazil's outside defenders, particularly Rosana, could pose problems as well. Again, Australia will have to look for good opportunities for the counter if Brazil's outside defenders get caught upfield.

The goalkeeping matchup should be interesting with both being very experienced, Andreia for Brazil and Barbieri for Australia. Neither can afford to make mistakes, but it is almost a given that Barbieri will see more action at her end of the field.

Look early in the match to see how sharp Brazil's passing game is. They haven't played very many matches lately and they might be a bit rusty early on. Australia will have to avoid 1 v. 1 situations as much as possible and it's a must when Marta is involved. The trick is to frustrate Marta, as we have seen happen on very rare occasion in WPS.

Australia is always a game squad. They won a very tough AFC qualification tournament without De Vanna, which is a laudable effort indeed. Once again, they will be without one of their best scorers in Gill. It may be too much for them to overcome against a team like Brazil, which has so many weapons and the world's best player. Brazil will likely have the possession edge and might be able to wear the Matildas down, although you'll never see them quit.

My Prediction: Brazil 3, Australia 1