July 8, 2011

Quarterfinals - Game Two

Germany (#2) vs. Japan (#4)
Wolfsburg (2:45 pm eastern)

Last Meeting: Germany 0, Japan 0 (July 29, 2009)

Coach: Silvia Neid
Matches: Defeated Canada 2-1, Defeated Nigeria 1-0, Defeated France 4-2.
Goalkeepers: Nadine Angerer (3 gms, 1.00 gaa, 1 shutout), Ursula Holl, Almuth Schult.
Defenders: Linda Bresonik (2 gms), Saskia Bartusiak (3 gms), Annike Krahn (3 gms), Babett Peter (3 gms, 2 ast), Lena Goessling (1 gm), Bianca Schmidt (1 gm), Verena Faisst.
Midfielders: Kerstin Garefrekes (3 gms, 2 goals, 1 ast), Simone Laudehr (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Melanie Behringer (2 gms), Kim Kulig (2 gms), Celia Okoyino da Mbabi (3 gms, 2 goals), Fatmire Bajramaj (3 gms), Ariane Hingst (1 gm).
Forwards: Birgit Prinz (2 gms), Inka Grings (2 goals, 1 ast), Alexandra Popp (3 gms), Martina Muller.

Coach: Norio Sasaki
Matches: Defeated New Zealand 2-1, Defeated Mexico 4-0, Lost to England 0-2.
Goalkeepers: Ayumi Kaihori (3 gms, 1.00 gaa, 1 shutout), Nozomi Yamago, Miho Fukumoto.
Defenders: Yukari Kinga (3 gms, 1 ast), Izusa Iwashimizu (3 gms), Saki Kumagai (3 gms), Aya Sameshima (3 gms), Kyoko Yano.
Midfielders: Aya Miyama (3 gms, 1 goal, 2 ast), Homare Sawa (3 gms, 3 goals), Mizuho Sakaguchi (3 gms), Kozue Ando (3 gms), Nahomi Kawasumi (2 gms), Rumi Utsugi (1 gm), Asuna Tanaka (1 gm), Megumi Kamionobe.
Forwards: Shinobu Ohno (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Yuki Nagasato (3 gms, 1 goal, 1 ast), Mana Owabuchi (3 gms), Karina Maruyama (2 gms), Megumi Takase.

Nadine Angerer is one of the best keepers in the world. She has World Cup experience from 2007, when she shut out every opponent. She is agile and hard to beat from distance. She makes good decisions on when to come out and her timing is excellent. One would have to say that it was almost shocking to see France score twice against Angerer, but to be fair, it was more of defensive strategy on set pieces than Angerer's goalkeeping that let in those goals.

Ayumi Kaihori has a tall order in front of her on Saturday. She will have to feel awfully small amongst all of the German's tall trees, most especially Garefrekes. While Kaihori is very quick, she will have to play the game of her life against Germany if Japan is to have a chance. High balls into the penalty area will be an adventure for Kaihori and her decison making will be sorely tested.

Advantage: Germany

Germany is solid and deep on the back line. Their outside back team of Linda Bresonik and Babett Peter may be the best in the world. Peter is dangerous offensively and rock solid defensively. Both are physical players who can dish out as much or more than they take. Saskia Bartusiak and Annike Krahn will likely start inside for the German. Both are proven veterans. Germany is especially deep on defense, with Lena Goessling and Bianca Schmidt coming off the bench.

Germany's problems against France came on their defense of set pieces, playing more of zone rather than manning up. It gave France opportunities for unmarked headers and the results, while not disaster, were certainly not desired. One would think Silvia Neid will address this problem and it will not resurface against Japan, a team they should dominate in the air in any case.

Japan has played they same back line for the entire tournament, never subbing any of the four out. Yukari Kinga is the best of these defenders and is very dangerous on the attack. Look for Japan to try to get her forward as much as possible. The two middle defenders are Azumi Iwashimizu and Saki Kumagai. Both are solid players, but they will have problems with Germany's size. Iwashimizu is just 5-4 and will be tested by Germany's bigger, stronger attacking players. Kumagai is Japan's tallest defender.

Some consider Aya Sameshima, the left back, to be their defense's weakest link. Germany will surely test her side often in this match and her early play may be an indication of how this game will go for Japan.

Advantage: Germany

Japan are strongest in their midfield. Aya Miyama and Homare Sawa are one of the best 1-2 midfield combinations in the world. Miyama has pinpoint accuracy on set pieces and crosses. She will be asked to put the ball where Japan has the best opportunity to score. Sawa, now playing in her fifth World Cup, is a respected veteran who rarely makes mistakes. She is known for setting up other players, but scored a hat trick against Mexico. However, it is highly unlikely that she will get any uncontested headers against Germany, like she did in the Mexican game.

Japan will likely also start Kozue Ando and Mizuho Sakaguchi at the other two midfield spots. The Japanese are among the best technicians and tacticians in the game. They will methodically try to work the ball up the field, looking to get the ball to Sawa and Miyama, so they can provide service to the Japanese forwards. Rumi Utsugi and Nahomi Kawasumi provide depth in the midfield for Japan.

Germany is just so deep at midfield, they could sit two or three starters and still not miss a beat. Kerstin Garefrekes is a World Cup veteran, who is among the best in the air and whose other skills are often underrated. She will be the primary target for free kicks on Saturday.

Three of the younger wave of German players are Kim Kulig, Simone Laudehr, and Celia Okoyino da Mbabi. While Laudehr normally plays a more defensive position, she has proven dangerous at the offensive end as well, scoring the winning goal against Nigeria. Kulig is a tough physical player and great defensively. Okoyino da Mbabi is becoming one of the best attacking midfielders in soccer. She has already scored twice in the group stage and I would be very surprised if she isn't involved in the scoring in this match.

Supposedly, Melanie Behringer will be able to play, but if not, German depth should be able compensate for her loss. Still, Behringer is a very good player and they would like to have her experience in the lineup. Look for fan favorite Fatmire Bajramaj to make a 2nd half entrance.

Advantage: Very slightly Germany.

Will Birgit Prinz be back in the lineup or not? Well, that is certainly one of the questions leading into Saturday's quarterfinal. The great German player has been a virtual non-factor when she's been on the field, something that no one would have thought possible just two weeks ago. Never count her out and she now has the extra incentive to shine in this match, not that needs any.

If Prinz doesn't go, Inka Grings will present any defense with problems. She's very tough, sometimes single-minded, but usually will put one in the back of the net when it's needed. Alexandra Popp may be one of the best forwards in the world as a reserve. She certainly appears to be Germany's future and one can count on a second half appearance from her.

Look for Germany to really push the Japanese back line, especially their right (the Japanese left side). They will want to send numbers forward and get into Kaihori's vicinity as much as possible to rattle the Japanese keeper. Set pieces should be deadly for the Germans.

As for the Japanese, Shinobu Ohno could be their most dangerous forward. She has good pace and generally times her runs well. Yuki Nagasato will likely be the other forward and can be dangerous as well, but will have to deal with a very physical German back line.

We will surely see Mana Iwabuchi, if not as a starter, as a second half substitute. The young forward is already showing good creativeness that one would expect of a proven veteran. She gives Japan an untangible force up front. Karina Maruyama provides depth for the Japanese at forward.

Advantage: Germany

Germany are the two-time defending World Cup champions and they will be playing at home, as if they needed any additional advantage. They know how to win big games. They are deep at every position and have one of the world's best keepers in Angerer.

Japan is in the quarterfinals for only the second time, with the first being a 4-0 loss to the United States in 1995. They have solid experience and leadership with Sawa in the midfield and they have Miyama, a set piece genius.

Germany will attack at all angles, but especially up the right side at Sameshima. They will also try to force set pieces and crowd the penalty area, making things difficult for Japan's smallish back line and for Kaihori in goal. Germany is also a deeper squad and may be able to wear Japan, a team that has probably used their bench less than any other team, down later in the match. There is no question they have the physical edge in this match and they have so many weapons, they are hard to defend.

Japan is probably giving up 3 or 4 inches and several pounds at each position. There is no way they can beat Germany in a physical match. They need to keep possession for long periods of time and make the Germans chase them. They are their best with the ball at their feet and will want to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible.

Japan will find it hard to attack the flanks against Bresonik and Peter and may have to wait for opportunities to play the ball through for the speedy Ohno. They will be most dangerous on set pieces inside 25 yards, where Miyama might be able to place one in the corner.

I just can't see Japan being able to defend against Germany's size and numbers. Japan has struggled against bigger, stronger opponents, notably England in the group stage and the US in two friendlies. Germany could make the home crowd very happy.

My Prediction: Germany 3, Japan 0