July 9, 2011: One of the most memorable days in Women’s World Cup history.
If there was anything that could upstage the brilliant cat-and-mouse match won by France over England, it was a determined Japanese squad that deposed the host nation Germany with a stunning extra time goal. There was a commonality between the matches however, and it came down to style.
The first match saw the free-flowing, ball-to-turf French come up against the direct, counterattacking English. The match went the way of the Three Lions in the 59th minute, as a rush up the left side resulted in Jill Scott firing home a bending shot for the 1-0 lead. Replays showed that France had a complaint, in that Kelly Smith handled the ball to control along the left, before her pass to Scott in open space.
The French controlled most of the play throughout the latter portions of the match, with England’s attack hindered by an injury to Smith. She and her teammates gutted out the remainder of the match. But with only three minutes left in regulation time, a loose ball rolling out of the area was put into the top left corner on an accurate shot from Elise Bussaglia.
Extra time saw France continue to threaten, but England held the fort and sent the game to penalties. France was forced to use their second-choice keeper in Celine Deville due to the match ban of Berangere Sapowicz for a red card in the Germany match. England started well, with their keeper Karen Bardsley stopping the first attempt by Camille Abily. Both teams proceeded to make their next three penalties. But with England in the drivers seat at 3-3 with two kicks remaining, Claire Rafferty’s left foot pulled her shot to the right of goal. After the fourth conversion by Eugenie Le Sommer, Captain Faye White stepped up to take the crucial shot to send it forward. Her shot was too high, hitting the crossbar, and France moved on to the semifinal.
Like the first quarterfinal, it pitted one team that played a horizonal, shorter-passing game, Japan, with a Germany team that looked to use their size advantage by playing long balls and crosses into players like Inka Grinks and Kerstin Garefrekes.
The match was quite equal, but in differing ways. The Germans enjoyed much possession in their final third, mostly because they were able to win long aerials against the smaller Japan defense. What the Japanese lacked in size, they brought in determination and work rate. They frustrated Germany with heavy pressure and solid organization. Japan’s chances came more on the counterattack, but many of their thrusts were met with more size in the Germany defense.
An early injury may have also unsettled the hosts and their coach, Silvia Neid. Holding midfielder Kim Kulig suffered a knee injury in the first 5 minutes of the match. This forced Neid to burn a substitution, bringing on right back Bianca Schmidt. Neid chose to slide Linda Bresonik into the midfield role first occupied by Kulig. When Neid then saw fit to sub out Bresonik for holding midfielder Lena Goessling, it caused some wonder because the favorites burned two substitutions in the back 6. This limited their ability to bring on attack-minded subs.
While the early match wasn’t ultimately decided by the contrast in styles, this match most definitely was a course in patience and will. Germany was authoritative for the first 60 minutes. As it became clear that Neid wouldn’t be able to call on all of her offensive weapons off the bench, a bit of frustration and anxiety set in for the hosts. Japan had weathered the storm, and the counterattacking opportunities became more dangerous as the second half progressed.
In extra time, Japan’s adherence to high pressure, toughness, and playing high-tempo, quick ground passing paid off. The Germans seemed to grow weary, and a well-timed play to the right of goal in the 18th minute of extra time allowed Karina Maruyama to fire a shot past Nadine Angerer to eliminate the hosts 1-0.
In both contests, you saw two different styles meeting. This may be one of the first times where we are seeing teams with better speed and skill in short passing overcoming stronger, physically imposing presences on the pitch. Tomorrow’s quarterfinals feature Sweden squaring off against Australia (6:00 AM EDT, ESPN), while the United States will try to bottle up Marta and the technically-proficient Brazil squad (11:30 EDT, ESPN).