July 1, 2011

World Cup: Day 7

Sweden vs. North Korea (8 am eastern)

This could well be a very important match in determining the final order of finish in Group C. A Swedish victory would probably eliminate Korea DPR. A Korean victory, however, could well make for tense moments all around come next Wednesday, the final day of group play in Group C.

Sweden would appear to have the advantage heading into this match. Even though they struggled to get past Colombia, their size, strength, and experience is head and shoulders above Korea DPR.

One was beginning to wonder if Jessica Landstrom could find more ways to miss the net last Tuesday. She was going high or wide on nearly every attempt, but she finally found the goal in the 57th minute against Colombia and she might be a good deal more accurate on Saturday. Her striking partner, Lotta Schelin will surely have her opportunities as well and both will give Korea's defense as much or more than they can handle.

When Sweden defeated Colombia earlier in the week, they were able to get numbers forward which forced Colombian star Yoreli Rincon to do far more defending than attacking. They will try to do the same to Jo Yun Mi, Korea's most talented player. Caroline Seger was strong in the center midfield and won many a 50-50 ball in the match against Colombia.

While Sweden gave up virtually nothing up the middle to Colombia, they did look vulnerable on their right flank a few times. Korea might well attack that side of the Swedish defense, although the Koreans' technical abilities may enable them to loosen up the Swedish defense better than Colombia. Sara Thunebro and Charlotte Rohlin form a solid wall on Sweden's left. Hedvig Lindahl's experience gives her an edge for Sweden.

While Korea DPR played the United States even or maybe better for one half on Tuesday, they faded badly in the second half and were pretty much dominated in the final 45 minutes. They will need to get a better 90 minute effort on Saturday.

The Korean attack really does depend very much on Jo, the MVP of the Asian Cup last year. She wasn't as big a factor against the US as she might have been and the Koreans will try to get her more involved in the attack in this match. Most of the Korean strikers are very young, but Ra Un Sim provides the most experience and is probably the best scorer of the group.

Korea DPR will have to be patient when attacking and keep long attempts to a minimum, as they would likely not faze Lindahl in the least. They will want to play the ball to the feet because of Sweden's overwhelming advantage in the air.

On the back line, we saw Song Jong Sun make occasional runs up the right side against the US. However, it might be difficult to crack the Swedish defense on that side of the field. Ri Un Hyang and Jong Pok Sim started in the central defense against the US. They will be under heavy pressure against Schelin and Landstrom, who will tower over over them.

One probably couldn't fault Hong Myong Hui on either goal on Tuesday. She will face another difficult day, with an aerial attack and set pieces being Korea's biggest fear.

If Korea DPR could play like they did in the first half against the United States, they could give Sweden a run for their money. Certainly, the longer they keep Sweden off the board, the more frustrated Sweden's attack will become. But Sweden showed that they will turn the pressure up when they have to. Seger's physical presence in the midfield will be a problem for Korea.

My Prediction: Sweden 2, Korea DPR 1

United States vs. Colombia (12 pm eastern)

A victory in this match will put the United States in very good shape in Group C and pending the outcome of the Sweden/Korea DPR match, could give them a quarterfinal berth. Colombia, on the other hand, desperately needs at least a tie in this match just to stay alive.

These two teams have never met on the field. In fact, outside of Brazil, the US has rarely played a team from South America.

There is talk going around that Lori Lindsey might possibly start in the central midfield for the Americans. If that is true, it would be a rare instance indeed where both Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd were both healthy and didn't start together. Boxx did take a bit of a knock in the match against Korea DPR and the 33-year old is not as young as she used to be (none of us are), so Sundhage may try to rest her veteran midfielder in favor of matches further into the tournament.

On the attack, Abby Wambach is likely to give Colombia's back line fits. And it doesn't help that Sundhage's decision to start Lauren Cheney gives the US another strong, powerful offensive presence to deal with. Truth be told, for an outside midfielder, Cheney ended up in the middle of the field an awful lot, taking shots against Korea DPR. If I didn't know better, I could have swore that the US was playing three forwards in their first match.

The US defense showed some weaknesses in the first half against Korea, but they were more solid later in the match. Ali Krieger may have had one of her best matches for the national team against Korea and she has definitely nailed down the right back position on this team. And it always helps when you have Hope Solo behind you in goal. Her World Cup record now stands at five matches played and four consecutive shutouts.

Colombia will want to get Yoreli Rincon more involved in the attacking end in this match. Against Sweden, she appeared to drop back further and further as the match wore on and she spent most of her day either defending or trying harmless shots from distance. Catalina Usme is Colombia's one experienced forward and she will likely be the biggest threat in the middle against central defenders Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler.

The player that was most dangerous for Colombia against Sweden was Carmen Rodallega, who attacked very well up the left side of the field in that match. If Colombia can catch Krieger upfield on an overlapping run, a quick, effective counterattack on that side could pose a problem for the US.

On the Colombian back line, only Kelis Peduzine has much height so Colombia will need to keep the ball on the side, forcing throw-ins instead of free kicks and corners. Captain Natalia Gaitan had a very strong game against Sweden on Tuesday. Defender Nataly Arias is from the United States and played college soccer at the University of Maryland.

Solo will have the goalkeeping advantage over Sandra Sepulveda for Colombia. Sepulveda will have to fight for every ball in the air or she is in for a very long day.

If you are a US fan, there are three things to worry about in this match...Columbia's speed, counterattacks, and overconfidence. Remember that it took nearly sixty minutes for Sweden to get their goal, so the Americans will have to work for this one. Colombia needs to get numbers forward when counterattacking opportunities arise and hope for a lot of 1 v. 1 soccer on the offensive end. In the end, I see the United States' size advantage as being too imposing on the offensive end.

My Prediction: United States 2, Colombia 0.