July 9, 2011

Quarterfinals - Game Four

United States (#1) vs. Brazil (#3)
Dresden (12 pm eastern)

Last Meeting: United States 1, Brazil 0 in ot (August 21, 2008)

United States
Coach: Pia Sundhage
Matches: Defeated North Korea 2-0, Defeated Colombia 3-0, Lost to Sweden 1-2.
Goalkeepers: Hope Solo (3 gms, 0.67 gaa, 2 shutouts), Nicole Barnhart, Jill Loyden.
Defenders: Ali Krieger (3 gms), Christie Rampone (3 gms), Rachel Buehler (3 gms, 1 goal), Amy LePeilbet (3 gms), Stephanie Cox (2 gms, 1 ast), Becky Sauerbrunn, Heather Mitts.
Midfielders: Carli Lloyd (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Shannon Boxx (2 gms), Lauren Cheney (3 gms, 1 goal, 2 ast), Heather O'Reilly (2 gms, 1 goal), Megan Rapinoe (3 gms, 1 goal), Lori Lindsey (1 gm), Kelley O'Hara (1 gm), Tobin Heath (1 gm).
Forwards: Abby Wambach (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Amy Rodriguez (3 gms), Alex Morgan (2 gms).

Coach: Kleiton Lima
Matches: Defeated Australia 1-0, Defeated Norway 3-0, Defeated Equatorial Guinea 3-0.
Goalkeepers: Andreia (3 gms, 0.00 gaa, 3 shutouts), Barbara, Thais.
Defenders: Daiane (2 gms), Aline (3 gms), Erika (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Renata Costa (2 gms), Elaine, Roseane.
Midfielders: Maurine (3 gms), Formiga (3 gms), Fabiana (3 gms), Ester (3 gms), Francielle (3 gms), Beatriz (1 gm).
Forwards: Marta (3 gms, 2 goals, 2 ast), Rosana (3 gms, 2 goals), Cristiane (3 gms, 2 goals, 1 ast), Thais Guedes (1 gm), Grazielle (1 gm), Daniele.

Hopo Solo is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. She has two shutouts so far in this World Cup, before Sweden ended a long scoreless streak for her. Of the two goals she gave up, one was a penalty and one a deflection off of a defender, she could be blamed for neither. She is quick, agile, and very tough to score against. She also starts counterattacks by quickly getting an outlet pass to start her team forward.

However, she will have to be nearly perfect in this match, because no matter how good her defense is, you can bet that Brazil will get some great scoring chances at some point in the match. She has the luxury of knowing that she has shut this team out before, in the 2008 Olympics, when everything was on the line.

Andreia is a solid keeper and has had a very good World Cup so far. She has posted three shutouts to date, but she hasn't been tested all that much, so this game should be a good measure of just how well she is playing. She, too, has proven to be very agile and quick. She has a great record, but did give up two goals to Canada in a tournament at the end of 2010, so she can be scored upon. She does not have the distribution skills that Solo does, but few keepers do.

Advantage: United States

This is one of many areas that these two teams contrast. Brazil will play a three back set, with basically what amounts to a sweeper in Daiane. Very few teams have the talent to play this kind of defense and get away with it, but Brazil is such a team. At the outside back positions, there is Erika, who already has a goal and an assist in this tournament. She is the most offensive-minded of the group. Aline, is on the other side, and is very sound defensively.

So what will the United States throw at them? If Heather O'Reilly is healthy and playing, Erika will have to be particularly careful on her side. O'Reilly is one of the fastest of the American midfielders. They will also have to give up few set pieces, because that could be where the US is most dangerous with Abby Wambach.

For the United States, Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler will start in the middle, with Ali Krieger and likely Amy LePeilbet to start on the outside. Stephanie Cox is another possible starter at left back. Buehler is a hard tackler in the middle and Rampone has experience and good speed. As a natural center back, LePeilbet has struggled at times in her new position at left back. Ali Krieger is the most attack minded of all US defenders and she has had a very good World Cup so far.

After two solid games defensively, the United States were once again exposed against Sweden as they had been by Mexico last year. They play a high line and are susceptible to through balls to smart forwards who know how to time their runs properly. There lack of speed will be a problem against Brazil, particularly Marta, who may be the fastest striker in the world.

Advantage: Brazil

Brazil's starters in the midfield are Maurine and Fabiana on the outside, with Formiga and Ester in the middle. Three of these four have played in WPS. Formiga is the experienced veteran. She is strong defensively, tough on 50-50 balls, and distributes well. Fabiana is well-suited for being a wing player and serves the ball with excellent precision.

The Brazilian midfield has not been very involved in the scoring so far and they must often track back to support their back line. They are technically more skilled than the US and pass the ball well. Brazil will look to their midfield to switch the point of attack and most importantly, to link to the forwards, where Brazil does most of their damage.

One key for the United States in this match will be the health of Heather O'Reilly. If she can play, her speed could cause Brazil problems on the right side. That was missing in the US match against Sweden. Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd play central midfield. Lloyd has a goal and an assist in the tournament, but she needs to guard against trying too many hopeless 35 yard shots. She has a strong shot, but needs to use it wisely.

Lauren Cheney has been the surprise for the United States. She has proven quite a good midfielder in this tournament and has a goal and two assists. She will tend to occasionally revert to a striker and shade toward the center of the field, but showed excellent ability to track back to aid her defense in the last match against Sweden. Megan Rapinoe will start if O'Reilly can't. The US midfield will have to guard against giving Brazil too much space in front of their back line.

Advantage: Slightly United States (if O'Reilly is healthy).

There are attacking players and then there is Marta. Determined, fast, smart, and skilled, she can shred any defense, no matter how it's setup to defend against her. She can score and she can set up others as she has shown in this tournament with two goals and two assists. And her speed will be a real problem for the United States. But if they can defend against her, she does have a tendency to get frustrated at times and that really must be part of the US strategy against Brazil.

Rosana has had a very good tournament so far with two goals of her own. Cristiane may not quite have Marta's skills, but she is a born scorer. Cristiane did score two goals in her last match, but had been relatively quiet leading up to that. This threesome gives Brazil quite a potent attack.

The United States' most potent weapon for many years has been Abby Wambach, but nagging injuries have given her problems. Wambach is one of the best in the air and the very definition of a target forward. She seems content, almost too content at times, in setting up her teammates at times now. Her striking mate will likely be Amy Rodriguez, a speedy forward who hasn't really hit her stride in this tournament. Alex Morgan is the American supersub, but also has been less effective than in games earlier this year.

The United States will often try to play outside in, using O'Reilly and Cheney to serve the ball to their forwards from the wing. Wambach will be their primary target and it seems as though everything plays off of her. The US forwards are not as good in one-on-one opportunities as their Brazilian counterparts.

Advantage: Brazil

Kleiton Lima has made only one lineup change throughout this tournament, that at center back. He has used his subs very sparingly, with only a total of 54 minutes for his bench players for the entire group stage, which is almost shocking. Francielle is the only substitute that has been used consistently. One has to wonder if now that they will be playing tougher competition and tighter matches, if this won't come back to haunt them. Substitutes have been key in the first two quarterfinal matches.

The United States cannot match Brazil's technical abilities, so they must just try to contain them. The high defensive line and the offside trap are dangerous tactics against a team that has this much speed. Will the US play more conservatively in back for this match?

Almost the entire of Brazil's attack in this tournament has been from their forwards. Their midfield does not have a goal or an assist in three matches. At times, they have disappeared in the shadow of their great front line. Meanwhile, it has been the opposite for the United States, getting four goals and three assists out of their midfield. But the United States midfield can be very much the Jekyll-Hyde proposition.

Brazil appears to be a bad matchup for the United States. So will this be a repeat of the 2007 World Cup semifinal, a 4-0 victory for Brazil, or will it be more like the 2008 Olympic final, a 1-0 victory for the US.

My Prediction: Brazil 2, United States 1.