July 12, 2011

Preview: Semifinal One

United States (#1) vs. France (#7)
Moenchengladbach (12 pm eastern)

Last Meeting: United States 4, France 1 (March 13, 2006)

United States
Coach: Pia Sundhage
WC Matches: Defeated Korea DPR 2-0; Defeated Colombia 3-0; Lost to Sweden 1-2; Defeated Brazil 2-2 (5-3 pk).

GK-Hope Solo (4 gms, 0.92 gaa, 2 shutouts)
DF-Ali Krieger (4 gms)
DF-Becky Sauerbrunn
DF-Christie Rampone (4 gms)
DF-Amy LePeilbet (4 gms)
MF-Heather O'Reilly (3 gms, 1 goal)
MF-Shannon Boxx (3 gms)
MF-Carli Lloyd (4 gms, 1 goal, 1 assist)
MF-Lauren Cheney (4 gms, 1 goal, 2 assists)
FW-Abby Wambach (4 gms, 2 goals, 1 assist)
FW-Amy Rodriguez (4 gms)

GK-Nicole Barnhart, Jill Loyden.
DF-Stephanie Cox (2 gms, 1 assist), Heather Mitts.
MF-Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Lindsey (1 gm), Tobin Heath (2 gms), Kelley O'Hara (1 gm).
FW-Alex Morgan (3 gms).
Inactive-Rachel Buehler (4 gms, 1 goal) (red card suspension).

Coach: Bruno Bini
WC Matches: Defeated Nigeria 1-0; Defeated Canada 4-0; Lost to Germany 2-4; Defeated England 1-1 (4-3 pk).

GK-Berangere Sapowicz (3 gms, 0.73 gaa, 2 shutouts)
DF-Laure LePailleur (4 gms)
DF-Laura Georges (4 gms, 1 goal)
DF-Ophelie Meilleroux (1 gm)
DF-Sonia Bompastor (4 gms)
MF-Sandrine Soubeyrand (4 gms, 2 assists)
MF-Elise Bussaglia (4 gms, 1 goal)
MF-Camille Abily (4 gms, 1 goal, 1 assist)
MF-Louisa Necib (4 gms, 1 assist)
MF-Gaetane Thiney (4 gms, 2 goals)
FW-Marie-Laure Delie (4 gms, 2 goals)

GK-Celine Deville (2 gms, 1.90 gaa) , Laetitia Philippe.
DF-Sabrina Viguier (2 gms), Wendie Renard (2 gms), Corine Franco.
MF-Laure Boulleau (2 gms), Caroline Pizzala.
FW-Eugenie LeSommer (4 gms, 1 assist), Elodie Thomis (4 games, 1 goal), Sandrine Bretigny (1 gm).

These two teams arrived in Moenchengladbach in a very similar fashion. Both finished second in their group stage, losing their last match. Both had to go to penalty kicks to win in the quarterfinals. Both have suffered one red card in this tournament.

However, one big difference is that the United States will be missing a key starter for this match, with Rachel Buehler having to sit because of the red card in the quarterfinal match against Brazil. The United States also had to play one down for nearly 60 minutes on Sunday and France will have 24 hours of additional rest, both of which could be factors in Wednesday's match.

France has never defeated the United States in women's soccer. They haven't even met since 2006 and most of the meetings between the two occured back in the 1990's, a long time ago now.

Neither team has scored much early in the match. France has scored seven of their eight goals after the 56 minute mark. The United States has scored six of their eight goals after the 50 minute mark.

The United States has been to every single semifinal in World Cup history, but their record in semifinal matches is only 2-3. For France, this is their first venture into the semis, having never even reached the quarterfinals before this year.

Hope Solo has given up four goals in this World Cup. Two were penalty kicks, one a deflected free kick, and one a brilliant goal by Marta. She has also stopped two penalties, although one was reversed by a referee's decision. Most of the pre-tournament worries about her shoulder have been forgotten now. She is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world right now.

Solo will have to keep her emotions in check for this match. She will likely get tested on some one-on-one chances by the French, who have a lot of speed up front and on the wings. Solo will have to make a lot of split second decisions on Wednesday, especially if her back line gets beat. She is extremely quick and agile.

Berangere Sapowicz should be well rested. She sat out the last match serving her red card suspension from the match against Germany. While she was somewhat maligned coming into the tournament, she has played very, very well, posting shutouts against Nigeria and Canada. She, too, will have to make quite a few quick decisions on Wednesday, especially when dealing with high crosses to the middle, with Abby Wambach as their target.

Advantage: United States

It appears both coaches are making changes to their back line for the match. Bruno Bini is putting first game starter Ophelie Meilleroux at center back, next to Laura Georges. Sonia Bompastor and Laure LePailleur will play the outside back positions.

Meanwhile, ESPN is reporting that Pia Sundhage has opted for Becky Sauerbrunn in the US backfield to take the place of Buehler, apparently passing on the opportunity to move Amy LePeilbet back to her natural position at center back by starting Stephanie Cox at left back. It is a bit of risk for Sundhage, because Sauerbrunn has just ten caps and has yet to play at the World Cup. Ali Krieger will start at right back and Christie Rampone will start at center back, joining LePeilbet and Sauerbrunn.

Georges is one of the best center backs in this tournament. She has 100 caps to show for her career. She is very experienced and a tough tackler, not to mention she scored a goal for France against Germany. Meilleroux has experience as well, but she is the third different center back to play along side Georges in this tournament. Sabrina Viguier had started at center back twice.

France has two very active outside backs that like to get forward. Sonia Bompastor was a star in WPS for two season, before returning to play in France in 2011. She is a sly veteran, who is very rarely beaten one-on-one. She also has a nice touch on crosses from the wing. LePailleur is the least experienced of the French starting defenders, but she has also proven a two-way threat as well.

Rampone is surprisingly fast at age 36. When it appeared Marta might have a breakaway in Sunday's match, Rampone stayed close enough to make sure Marta had to go wide, instead of straight at Solo. Sundhage will likely start her on LePeilbet's side again to help make up for the latter's lack of pace. Left back LePeilbet is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in WPS, but that was at center back. The outside position is new to her and her speed is not necessarily well-suited for that position.

On the right side, Ali Krieger and Becky Sauerbrunn will defend for the Americans. Krieger is having an outstanding World Cup and has arguably been the United States' most consistent player to this point. She also scored the game-winning penalty in Sunday's match. She is more apt to get forward than LePeilbet on the opposite side.

Sauerbrunn has been a solid player in WPS and many had labelled her as the heir apparent in the center for the US. But one wonders whether her inexperience will be a problem, because she will be tested by French speed in this match.

Advantage: France

France will likely stay with a 4-2-3-1 set, meaning five midfielders. The United States has been a 4-4-2 team for quite some time.

Veteran Sandrine Soubeyrand and Elise Bussaglia will play holding mids for the French. Soubeyrand is the elder stateswoman of French soccer at age 37. She has already recorded two assists in this tournament. Elise Bussaglia has also had a very good World Cup. Underrated by most standards, Bussaglia has defended solidly and showed her offensive abilities by scoring the goal that sent the match against England into overtime.

At the attacking positions, France will have Camille Abily and Gaetane Thiney on the wings, with Laura Necib in the middle. Abily is a dangerous attacking player, who can score anywhere within 35 yards of the goal. After a lackluster performance against Nigeria, she has been improving ever since. Thiney, a true forward, has two goals to this point and has good pace to attack from the outside.

Necib started the tournament on a high note, playing great matches against Nigeria and Canada. She is very active and not afraid to shoot. She is also one of France's most technically skilled players. The French have a huge advantage in the midfield when it comes to technical skills and their passing game has been superb.

The United States will start the two veterans, Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd, in the central midfield. Boxx was once considered one of the best defensive midfielders in women's soccer. She has had a pretty good tournament so far, save for the distraction on Marta's second goal. She is very strong in the air and gives the US a tough one-two punch in the air with Wambach. Lloyd can be inconsistent, but she seems to rise to the occasion when it comes to the big tournaments. She has one of the hardest shots in women's soccer.

Heather O'Reilly and Lauren Cheney start on the wings. O'Reilly is always a threat up the right side with her great speed and can strike from reasonable distance as she showed in the match against Colombia. Cheney has been a bit of a revelation in this tournament. A forward by trade, she has embraced the outside midfield role with a passion. She has been impressive on the offensive end with a goal and two assists, and has shown the ability to track back and help out the US left side defense.

Look for Megan Rapinoe to play a key role off the bench as she did in Sunday's match against Brazil, getting the game-tying assist.

Advantage: Very slightly France.

Abby Wambach has been the US target forward for some time now. She has well over 100 goals to her credit, but none bigger than the one she scored against Brazil on Sunday. She has been nursing an Achilles injury throughout the tournament, but when it's game on, she's ready. She, along with Kerstin Garefrekes, is the most feared player in the world in the air. Wambach has already scored twice in this tournament.

Amy Rodriguez has been a bit of an enigma. Blessed with great speed, she has appeared to mature as shown by the improvement in her WPS play. But she still seems to disappear at times for the United States. She will need to keep defenses honest, making probing runs so they cannot concentrate on Wambach.

Alex Morgan plays the role of supersub. She has scored several big goals late in matches leading up to the World Cup, but none so far in this tournament. Like Rodriguez, she is very fast and has already proven that she pairs well with Wambach.

But when you talk about speed up front, you have to talk about France. Marie-Laure Delie is averaging a goal about every 35 minutes over her very young playing career. She has lightning speed and has already showed the knack for taking advantage of opposing defenses and their weaknesses. Delie has already scored twice in this World Cup and seems to cause big problems in the 2nd half when defenders start to wear down.

If there is anyone faster than Delie, it is Elodie Thomis, another dangerous forward. Thomis has more experience than Delie, but has not quite shown her scoring touch to this point. Still, she has scored 15 international goals and much be watched at all times. Eugenie LeSommer has also had a good tournament and assisted on a goal earlier in the tournament. She has good passing skills and could be a force late in this match.

Advantage: Even.

The French have the advantage in technical skills and the ability to wear the already tired US team down with their passing. Necib and Abily could well be the key in the middle for France. Both can control the tempo of the match, especially Necib. Abily, Thiney, and Delie will cause the US defense problems. LePeilbet will be tested on the American left, as will the inexperienced Sauerbrunn.

The United States have attacked well from the flanks in this tournament and have several players that can serve crosses into the middle, with Wambach being a very dangerous target. O'Reilly is especially adept at getting around the outside defender to the end line. She will have to face a great veteran in Bompastor in this match, which could be one of the best matchups of the day.

One weakness the United States midfield has shown on occasion is having trouble getting back and allowing too much room in behind them, where opposing teams can counterattack. Without Buehler in the lineup, they cannot allow this to happen in this match, because the French have the players that can exploit this.

France's biggest weakness is defending against set pieces, something that the Americans are quite good at. France will do very well to hold the US off on corner kicks and free kicks and need to surrender as few of those opportunities as possible.

The goalkeeper matchup features Solo and Sapowicz. Sapowicz has played well, but Solo has been very strong. Solo has good command of her penalty area and will try to start a counterattack of her own by launching a quick ball down the field when an opportunity arises.

One thing to watch for early on is if either team, particularly the US, appears to have tired legs. The last match had to take a lot out of each team and the weather has been quite warm in Germany. The United States team had to be nearly emotionally spent following the match against Brazil. One cannot underestimate the effect on this kind of a match. My head and my heart are telling me different things.

Prediction: France 2, United States 1 in overtime.