July 5, 2011

World Cup: Day 11

The two teams advancing from Group C have already been decided, with placement being the only thing left. The United States will meet Sweden to determine who wins Group C, with a tie going to the United States. Colombia and Korea DPR have been eliminated.

Group D is a bit more interesting. Brazil has qualified for the quarterfinals and will win the group unless they have a disaster against Equatorial Guinea. Australia and Norway will meet to decide the second team out of Group D. The winner advances to the quarterfinal, while the loser goes home. Australia would advance in case of a tie, based on goal differential.

Brazil vs. Equatorial Guinea (12 pm eastern)

Brazil has the luxury of only needing a tie to clinch the group and since they have a hefty edge in scoring differential, they would likely win the group even in the event of a loss. Equatorial Guinea is playing for pride at this point and they have made a good account of themselves in this tournament so far.

It will be interesting to see how many players Brazilian coach Kleiton Lima elects to rest, if any. They have clinched a quarterfinal berth and the chances of them not winning the group are very slim indeed.

There is no doubt that Marta was the dominant factor in Brazil's last match. She scored two goals and added an assist in leading Brazil to an easy 3-0 win over Norway. Rosana has two goals so far in the tournament and has looked very good to this point. Cristiane is the only one of the three forwards who hasn't scored yet and one would think she would be pushing to do so in this match.

Brazil has not surrendered a goal in two matches and Andreia has done a solid job in goal on the whole, posting both shutouts. The Brazilian three defender formation looked vulnerable at times, but as of yet, no team has been able to score against them. Brazil has dominated midfield play with Formiga, Fabiana, and Maurine.

For Equatorial Guinea, it has been Anonman, Anonman, Anonman. She single-handedly kept her team in the match against Australia, twice stripping a defender of the ball and scoring. She will take every opportunity to shoot and is always dangerous. Diala is another player that has shown flashes of strong play in the attack.

We are hoping that there are no more embarrassing moments from the back line, as when Bruna picked up the ball in the last match. Carolina has generally been the Guineans strongest defender. Miriam will start in goal for the African squad.

The Brazilians do not have a lot of pressure in this match and they should be able to handle Equatorial Guinea, if they do not let their guard down and take Anonman too lightly. She is world class. In spite of their two losses, Equatorial Guinea has had a respectable World Cup, but it is hard to see them winning this one.

My Prediction: Brazil 3, Equatorial Guinea 0

Australia vs. Norway (12 pm eastern)

This match has become a winner-take-all proposition for a quarterfinal berth. Norway dug themselves a deep hole on goal differential because of their three goal loss to Brazil. Now they must win to advance, while a tie would be good enough for the Matildas.

For Norway's offense, it has been a frustrating World Cup so far. Only Emilie Haavi has scored and she has probably also played the best of any of the forwards or attacking players from the midfield. Elise Thorsnes and Isabell Herlovsen have not been able to find the net.

Australia has been a bit more successful, owing mostly to Lisa De Vanna's speed and determination. Leena Khamis also played well in her start against Equatorial Guinea and she has a goal to her credit.

The midfield battle should be interesting. Certainly, Australia's midfield, particularly Collette McCallum, has been very active in the first two matches. Ingvild Stensland is the driving force behind Norway's midfield.

Both defenses struggled in their last match. Servet Uzunlar had a nightmare with Anonman of Equatorial Guinea. Will Tom Sermanni make changes on his back line for this all important match? They were respectable against Brazil holding them to one goal.

Norway simply had no answer for Marta. They are not the fastest defense in any sense of the word and Marta's was able to run around and by them. De Vanna will pose a problem for Norway as well, although she is more direct and less crafty than the great Brazilian.

It is hard to give a goalkeeper's edge one way or the other. Both Melissa Barbieri for Australia and Ingrid Hjelmseth are solid keepers, with experience.

Australia is known for playing balls over the top of the defense and may try to do that here, leaving De Vanna and her speed to chase them down. I'm not sure if the middle is the best place to attack Norway, however, and the flanks might be a better option for Australia, using McCallum and Heather Garriock to serve balls into scoring position. De Vanna will need support from her fellow Matildas as well. Australia can simply not afford the mistakes that they made against Equatorial Guinea.

Norway needs to keep Australia's best weapons in front of them or to the outside. De Vanna can be prone to offsides, so they might be able to catch her a few times, but they must be careful. Set pieces are likely to be physical affairs in this match, with neither team backing down. Herlovsen, Thorsnes, and Pedersen need to put more shots on frame.

This is probably the most compelling match out of all of the final group stage games, with so much at stake.

My Prediction: Norway 2, Australia 1

United States vs. Sweden (2:45 pm eastern)

This match will decide first and second place in Group C, as both have already qualified for the quarterfinals. The United States has the edge in goal differential and will therefore win the group with a tie.

Key players for both teams are likely to miss this match. Sweden will definitely be without their star midfielder Caroline Seger, who will miss this match because of yellow card accumulation. She is the motor in the middle that makes Sweden run.

The United States will almost certainly be without wing midfielder Heather O'Reilly, who suffered a groin injury in the last match against Colombia. Abby Wambach continues to have nagging problems with her Achilles tendon and heel. Neither practiced on Monday.

The injuries will certainly hurt the American attack if neither can play. Lauren Cheney might ordinarily replace Wambach, since both are target forwards, but Cheney has been starting as an outside midfielder for the two previous games. Megan Rapinoe, who Cheney replaced in the starting lineup, will now have to take O'Reilly's place, leaving two forwards, Alex Morgan and Amy Rodriguez. One other possible option is Kelley O'Hara, a late addition to the team after Lindsay Tarpley went down with an injury.

The United States, after a slow start in the first half against Korea DPR, has played very well for the last game and a half. They have scored five goals in those two matches and their defense has shut out two opponents. Truth be told, Hope Solo hasn't had to make all that many saves to this point. But the back line is still the most suspect part of the United States' team and Sweden will likely be a tougher foe than either Colombia or Korea.

Meanwhile, Sweden has struggled through their first two games, deservedly winning both matches, but being less than impressive in doing so. One would guess that Lotta Schelin would give the American back line problems with her combination of speed and strength. It should be an interesting battle in the penalty area between Solo and the tall attacking players on Sweden, including Schelin and Jessica Landstrom. There should be some fierce battles on set pieces.

Sweden's defense has been solid to this point and they too have posted two shutous. Lindahl is very tested and experienced in goal for Sweden. One would suspect the United States might want to attack on their left, the right side of the Swedish defense. Charlotte Rohlin and Sara Thunebro generally don't make a lot of mistakes on Sweden's left side.

With Seger sidelined, one would think we would see more touches for Forsberg and Sjogran in the midfield. Lisa Dahlqvist has played well to this point in the tournament and has a goal to her credit.

I believe this game is about as even as it gets. It's probably going to come down to who can best compensate for their missing players. Wambach draws so many defenders to her and is so devastating on head balls, that her loss would hurt the American attack considerably. Without the active O'Reilly up the right flank, my guess is we will see more attacking up the middle from the US.

Sweden has a number of quality midfielders, so while the loss of Seger will hurt them, I believe they have experienced options at their disposal. Schelin has been largely frustrated to this point, but she seems to relish in facing the US.

My Prediction: Sweden 2, United States 1

Korea DPR vs. Colombia (2:45 pm eastern)

This match features the two youngest teams in this year's World Cup. Both of these teams have been eliminated as far as advancing to the quarterfinals. Both teams will look to this game to build toward the future.

Korea is known for their strong technical abilities and they will try to break down Colombia with a methodical attack using short passes to work their way up the field. Colombia is more likely to be impatient. They will look to target their young attacking players where they can go one-on-one against Korean defenders.

Colombia will likely start Yoreli Rincon in this match after starting her on the bench against the United States. Their young star will likely try to find space in the middle of the field and look for shooting opportunities whenever possible. Look also for Cataline Usme and Carmen Rodallega, a dangerous player on the left wing, to also cause Korea problems. Orianica Velasquez looked very good in limited minutes against the US and she might get more opportunity in this match.

Defensively, Natalia Gaitan has probably been Colombia's best player. Sandra Sepulveda started both of the first two matches in goal, but injured her hand against the United States and looked shaky on one of the goals scored after that.

Korea's Jo Yun Mi will be the focus of their attack. She is an extremely talented player and this may be a game that she will have a breakout performance. Ra Un Sim is also dangerous on the attack for Korea. Also beware of defender Song Jong Sun, one of Korea's most experienced player and one that likes to jump into the attack. Hong Myong Hui will probably be in goal for Korea.

Not only are these two teams the youngest, but they are also two of the shortest teams in the tournament. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see who wins the battles on set pieces in this match.

It is hard to judge what will happen when two very young teams meet each other in what is essentially a meaningless match. But while this match has little meaning as far as standings or advancement are concerned, I'm sure both teams will fight hard to win this one.

My Prediction: Korea DPR 1, Colombia 0