July 8, 2011

Quarterfinals - Game One

England (#10) vs. France (#7)
Leverkusen (12 pm eastern)

Last Meeting: England 2, France 2 (March 7, 2009)

Coach: Hope Powell
Matches: Tied Mexico 1-1, Defeated New Zealand 2-1, Defeated Japan 2-0.
Goalkeepers: Karen Bardsley (3 gms, 0.67 gaa, 1 shutout), Rachel Brown, Siobhan Chamberlain.
Defenders: Alex Scott (3 gms, 1 ast), Faye White (2 gms), Casey Stoney (3 gms), Rachel Unitt (3 gms, 1 ast), Sophie Bradley (3 gms), Claire Rafferty, Dunia Susa.
Midfielders: Karen Carney (3 gms, 2 ast), Jill Scott (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Fara Williams (2 gms, 1 goal), Rachel Yankey (3 gms, 1 goal), Anita Asante (1 gm), Laura Bassett (1 gm), Stephanie Houghton.
Forwards: Kelly Smith (3 gms), Ellen White (3 gms, 1 goal), Eniola Aluko (3 gms), Jess Clarke (2 gms, 1 goal).

Coach: Bruno Bini
Matches: Defeated Nigeria 1-0, Defeated Canada 4-0, Lost to Germany 2-4.
Goalkeepers: Celine Deville (1 gm, 8.18 gaa), Leticia Phillippe, Berangere Sapowicz (3 gms, 0.74 gaa).
Defenders: Wendie Renard (2 gms), Laura Georges (3 gms, 1 goal), Laure LePailleur (3 gms), Sonia Bompastor (2 gms), Ophelie Meilleroux (1 gm), Sabrina Viguier (1 gm), Corine Franco.
Midfielders: Sandrine Soubeyrand (3 gms, 2 ast), Camille Abily (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Elise Bussaglia (3 gms), Louisa Necib (3 gms, 1 ast), Laure Boulleau (2 gms), Caroline Pizzala.
Forwards: Gaetane Thiney (3 gms, 2 goals), Marie-Laure Delie (3 gms, 2 goals), Elodie Thomis (3 gms, 1 goal), Eugenie LeSommer (3 gms, 1 ast), Sandrine Bretigny.

France will have the disadvantage of having to play their backup keeper, Celine Deville. Berangere Sapowicz was red carded in the match against Germany. Deville was thrown into the fire last week, when she had to come into the match to face a penalty kick and then play the final 22 minutes with her team a player down.

Deville is certainly not inexperienced by any stretch of the imagination. She has over 40 caps and has played in four matches this year. She gave up the two goals to Germany and also two goals earlier in the year in a loss to Holland at the Cyprus Cup. She does not have a lot of big match experience. Other than her 22 minutes against Germany, her most significant match might have been in the 2009 Euros, when she shut out Holland for 120 minutes, only to be defeated on penalty kicks.

Karen Bardsley has not been the English starter all that long, but her WPS experience has helped her and she now seems quite comfortable with being England's number one keeper. She did appear to be caught a bit off guard on Monica Ocampo's bomb in the match against Mexico, but has played very well otherwise. She is very athletic and mobile for such a tall keeper.

Advantage: England

This area has been labelled England's Achilles heel, but they came out and played a solid match against a very strong technical side in Japan. They will be facing similar technical prowess in France. There is little doubt that Alex Scott and Rachel Unitt will start outside, and probably Faye White and Casey Stoney in the middle.

England will have to deal with the experience of Thiney, but probably their biggest problem will be the pace of Delie and Thomis. Additionally, they will have to deal with Necib on the outside. The Scott vs. Necib matchup could be one of the best. The back line will certainly need help from their midfield in this match. Offensively, Alex Scott is one of the best in the world at attacking from her right back position.

France has a very experienced back line as well. I'm guessing their probable starters will be Wendie Renard and Sonia Bompastor outside, with Laura Georges and Laure LePailleur inside. Renard's height could offset England's strong air attack, especially on set pieces. Overall, Georges has had a very solid tournament and scored a goal against Germany. Bompastor is a crafty veteran who rarely makes mistakes and does a lot of the little things to help her team win.

France will have to deal with a physical English side featuring Ellen White, Kelly Smith, and Jill Scott. They will have to be on the alert on set pieces and they had problems defending against another tall side, Germany, in the air. Bompastor will get forward into the attack when the opportunity presents itself and she is very good at serving the ball from the flank.

Advantage: France.

France has an excellent midfield and they are playing very well right now. Louisa Necib is having a fabulous Cup and her work rate to this point has been exceptional. Camille Abily is always a threat and can score from anywhere inside 30 yards. Soubeyrand is the experienced veteran of the French squad and is often called upon to attempt their set pieces. Elise Bussaglia is a solid player and one of the better defenders in the midfield. We will also likely see Laure Boulleau in a substitute role, a defensive specialist.

The French are masterful in technical play and that is one of their advantages over England. To this point, they have overwhelmingly favored Necib's side of the field, with good results to show for it. They will look for opportunities to play through to their speedy strikers, but have the patience to break down the opposing defense by conventional means.

England's midfield is strong as well, but in different areas. Fara Williams is generally very active in the middle of the field and is excellent on set piece service. Jill Scott is often on the other end of those set pieces and could cause France problems in the air. The aging veteran, Rachel Yankey, has proved quite effective and opportunistic as of late, both in the friendly against the United States back in April and in the match against Japan last week. Karen Carney has also been very effective on attacking from the wing and her service from that position has been spot on.

England will have to beware not to give France too much space in front of their back line. They will have to track back quickly on counterattacks as France's speed will be a problem for them. It is important that they not waste their set pieces, which might be their best opportunity to score. Also look for Anita Asante, a great defensive player, to be involved in this match, either as a possible starter or a substitute.

Advantage: France

Both of these teams are very deep at forward. France has an incredible amount of speed with Marie-Laure Delie and Elodie Thomis. Delie is already proving to be a scoring machine. Her pace will be a huge problem, especially for England's central defense. Thiney will look to make precise runs to receive passes from Necib and Abily. LeSommer has played well in relief for France.

Look for France to use its strong technical skills and passing to break down the English defense. They will look for opportunities to spring Delie behind England's back line. Also, look for France to take advantage of counterattacking opportunities, especially if they can catch England pressing too far forward.

England's advantage is their strength up front. Kelly Smith has been one of the best attacking players in the world for a number of years, but she has not had the huge effect on this tournament that one might have thought. She could be key in this match, because she can draw so many defenders toward her and then dish off to her forward partner, or out to her wings.

Ellen White is a blue-collar forward, not always pretty, but working constantly. It is sometimes the effort more than the skill that turns close matches. Eni Aluko, England's speed forward, has been less than effective lately after being one of England's stars at the 2009 Euros. Jess Clarke is also excellent from the wing and does provide England with a bit of pace up front.

Look for England to either try to get the ball to Smith in the middle, if she can find space, or attack from the wing with Carney and Yankey. There could be some epic battles on high serves into the French penalty area, an aspect that England has to dominate if they are to succeed.

Advantage: Even

England is making their third trip to the quarterfinals, while France is making their first. England has never made it as far as the semifinals.

France has been playing very good soccer and in spite of the loss to Germany, scoring two goals against the hosts was an impressive feat. England started slowly in the tournament, but has shown improvement in each match. They finally appeared to be hitting their stride against Japan.

Look for France to use their speed, technical advantage, and passing to break down Englands' often criticized defense. England's midfield will have to be mindful of the French attack, which could reduce their numbers going forward. Necib and Abily are key in the midfield and Delie has been one of the revelations of this tournament.

Meanwhile, England will try to get Smith opportunites in the middle and failing that, will attack from the flanks with Carney and Yankey. Set pieces might be their best weapon with Jill Scott, Smith, and White as the prime targets. Look for Alex Scott to make overlapping runs, but she must be careful not to get caught upfield on counterattacks. Defensively, she will have to try to restrict Necib's ability to cause havoc. Also look for England to test Deville early and often and try to rattle the substitute French keeper.

This could be a very physical match and one that will certainly feature contrasting styles and interesting matchups. My original prediction was England and it's tempting to stay with that in consideration that Sapowicz will not play. However, France has been playing very well.

My Prediction: France 2, England 1

This should be a very interesting match.