July 2, 2011

World Cup: Day 8

Australia vs. Equatorial Guinea (8 am eastern)

While it is mathematically possible that the loser of this match will still have a chance to advance to the quarterfinals, it's not very likely. Both teams lost close low scoring matches in their first game and both teams are still looking for their first goal in the 2011 World Cup. Both teams pushed their first game opponents to the limit.

In spite of Australia and Equatorial Guinea going scoreless in their first match, this one could very well be wide open. Certainly neither has any reason to hold anything back.

Australia certainly had their chances against Brazil and it took one heck of a goal to beat them. Maybe this not exactly a do or die game, but very close to it. It will be interesting to see if Tom Sermanni makes any changes to his lineup. He surprised a lot of people by starting young Caitlin Foord in the first game and on the back line at that.

Lisa De Vanna had a fairly frustrating day, but she certainly wasn't the only forward that's had a problem putting the ball on frame in this World Cup. De Vanna is almost essential to Australian attack, because opposing defenses simply must respect her blazing speed.

One wonders if veterans Clare Polkinghorne or Lauren Colthorpe might get a start in match two. Lisa Barbieri will probably again be the keeper for Australia. She really had no chance on the goal scored against her.

For Equatorial Guinea, Anonman certainly kept Norway busy. She launched over 10 shots for the match and she will likely be a thorn in Australia's side on Sunday as well. Like De Vanna, Anonman had trouble getting shots on frame. Diala is another player that could give Australia some problems.

Equatorial Guinea gave up 13 corner kicks in their first match and they will not want to repeat that against the Aussies. Carolina had a solid match against Norway on the back line. Miriam will be the starting goalkeeper and she gave up just one to Norway in the opener.

Equatorial Guinea surprised a lot of people in the first match, playing Norway to a one-goal match, especially considering they were missing several players that helped them qualify for the World Cup. Now the question is can they get their first victory in the World Cup.

Look for Australia to play the ball into space for their speedy forwards, particularly De Vanna, to run onto. Kyah Simon was very effective at times against Brazil. Australia will want to mark Anonman closely. If they can force her to take long shots, it may frustrate her. Equatorial Guinea needs to have a lot of energy and continue high pressure on the Australian back line, hopefully forcing a mistake.

This should be an entertaining match to watch and a very hard match to predict.

My Prediction: Australia 2, Equatorial Guinea 2.

Brazil vs. Norway (12:15 pm eastern)

This one is unique in that it is the only game where two teams that won their first match are meeting in the second match. Brazil and Norway will do battle with the winner being in the driver's seat to advance to the quarterfinals. The loser will do a lot more sweating in anticipation of their third match.

This will be a match of contrasting styles, South American vs. European if you will, and contrasting formations as well. That alone would make this an interesting match. But because of what may be on the line and the fact that they are meeting early enough in the tournament where neither has clinched a quarterfinal bid makes this compelling soccer.

Marta has played in 11 World Cup games and scored in seven of them, but has been shut out in the last two, Wednesday's match against Australia and the 2007 World Cup championship against Germany. One would think it highly unlikely for her to be blanked again. While Marta had her moments in Brazil's opening match, it was Cristiane and Rosana that provided the magic.

Formiga will be a pivotal factor in the midfield. One thing to look for in this match is to see how many touches she is getting and how well she is distributing the ball. If she is effective, Norway could be in for a long day.

Will Brazil play a true 3-4-3 against Norway? That could be another interesting aspect of this match, because the Brazilian back line did appear to be vulnerable at times against Australia and Norway has some skilled young attacking players in Elise Thorsnes and Isabell Herlovsen that could exploit any weakness.

Even without her goal, I thought Emilie Haavi had an excellent match against Equatorial Guinea. She will have to play a big role in this match as well if Norway is going to win.

Norway's back line against Brazil's three forwards will be another thing to watch closely. The Norwegians are sound on the back line and they have a great defensive-minded midfielder in Ingvild Stensland to help them out.

I would call the matchup between goalkeepers, Andreia for Brazil and Ingrid Hjelmseth for Norway to be fairly even. Both are veteran keepers that have seen a lot of action.

This game may be one of the more fun matches to watch in the World Cup. Brazil has to be the favorites, but the Norwegians could certainly pull an upset. However, I think this will be Marta's match and it's hard to bet against her.

My Prediction: Brazil 2, Norway 1.