Yesterday was a great day for women’s soccer. Not only was it FIFA’s official Anti-Discrimination Day (complete with the display of banners proclaiming, “Say no to racism”) but the reach of impressive international newcomers — many of whom had never experienced a World Cup semi-final — was both heartening and promising for the continued growth of women’s football worldwide. Plus, Team USA were wearing white jerseys. It was raining in Mönchengladbach. I’m just saying.
The first round of semi-finals saw a match-up between two equally deserving teams: France, the relentless rookie team, and USA, poised to continue their last-minute success against Brazil. Both teams, having advanced to the semis after their respective dramatic penalty-kick upsets, played a grueling 90 minutes in the Borussia-Park stadium in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Although the French team, competing in their first-ever World Cup semi-final, out-possessed and out-shot the Americans for much of the game, they simply could not convert their on-the-field domination into goals.
In the ninth minute, powerhouse midfielder Heather O’Reilly made a near-post run and sent a great ball to Cheney, who deflected it in for her second goal in five games.
The rest of the half saw stellar performances from the young French team, with Louisa Necib, often referred to as Zinedine Zidane’s counterpart, and Sonia Bompastor mercilessly firing shots at the Americans. Bompastor, the left back to boot, finally showed how dangerous she is, and scored in the fifty-fifth minute. But despite formidable performances by
Eugénie Le Sommer and Camille Abily in the second half, it was the United States that came out on top, with Abby Wambach delivering yet another header in minute 79, and young gun Alex Morgan making it 3-1 with only eight minutes to go.
Not a shade less exciting, in Frankfurt, the second deciding match paired the undefeated Sweden, having had delivered USA an early loss in the tournament, and underdog Japan, the team responsible for knocking out host Germany from the tournament.
A defensive error by the Japanese opened up a golden opportunity for speedy
Josefine Öqvist to shoot to the right post and secure for Sweden an early lead just before the tenth minute. Japan didn’t waste any time to equalize, as Aya Miyama sailed a cross for a deflection into the net by Nahomi Kawasumi.
Superstar and captain Homare Sawa, now tied with Brazil’s Marta for the Golden Boot award with a total of four goals in the 2011 tournament, added another goal for Japan with a superb header in the 60th minute. Three minutes later, Kawasumi sweetened the deal and chipped an explosive ball into Sweden’s virtually untended goal, making it 3-1. Out Swedish forward Jessica Landström was substituted in to replace Marie Hammarström, but could not help to close the gap.
Ultimately, Sweden was unable to chase down the game, and Japan emerged victorious and ready for their very first World Cup Final.
So what can we expect from the USA/Japan match-up this Sunday? The U.S. hope to add to the victories of 1991 and 1999 win a third title after twelve years of World Cup drought. Coach Pia Sundhage says they’ll win because they have heart, and Hope Solo says they’ll win because they’re “damn good.”
Japan, the underdog, representing a nation shocked by natural disasters, are eager to bring home a historic title. Over the course of the tournament, they’ve garnered support and acclaim from their nation like never before. Although both teams defeated their semi-final opponents 3-1, each did so very differently: USA didn’t play the best match on the field, but finished strong when necessary; Japan possessed the ball with agility for the majority of the match and capitalized on goalie mistakes.
Japan and USA both deserve to win this Sunday — who will you root for?