This match is a battle royale between the giants of women’s soccer. Germany versus the United States, the only two teams to have won the World Cup twice, the number one and two ranked teams in the world, and hopefully it will be special.
Hopefully, because for all of their accomplishments neither of these world powers come into this semifinal match in entirely convincing form.
This may be a surprise if you have been following the narrative that paints the U.S. as bunch of clueless hoofers hoping to bounce the occasional ball off of Abby Wambach’s head and into the opposition goal.
The second part of this narrative suggests that Germany are an unbeatable force who have scored 20 goals in this tournament while playing the beautiful game at a much higher level than the crude Americans.
And some of that is true, or has been true at times throughout this tournament, a tournament that has now stretched into its fourth week.
Germany’s trajectory was headed straight up from game one, a 10-0 beat down dealt to the unfortunate Ivory Coast. A 1-1 tie with Norway let some air out of the German Zeppelin, but after a 4-0 pasting of Thailand the Germans were risers once more.
Meanwhile the U.S. struggled to a 3-1 win against Australia, yes 3-1 was a struggle. Hope Solo kept the U.S. in the game long enough for Megan Rapinoe to conjure up a bit of magic, allowing the Americans to secure the three points.
0-0 to Sweden was no ones idea of impressive and even as the U.S. won its next two games against Nigeria and Colombia, onlookers were growing frustrated with coach Jill Ellis’ conservative approach and the teams continued reliance on the long ball.
Germany were in the ascendance again with a 4-1 Round of 16 thrashing of Sweden, against whom the U.S. had managed just that goalless draw. But Germany were outplayed by France in the quarterfinal, and only poor finishing by the French allowed Germany to make it to penalty kicks and on to this semifinal showdown.
Meanwhile the trajectory for the U.S. has been that of a slow riser. After emerging from a difficult group the Yanks handled cocky, young Colombia by a 2-0 score as signs of better, more thoughtful play became visible if you looked close enough.
Then China. With two top performers sidelined for picking up two yellow cards over a four game span, yes I find this a ludicrous rule, Ellis had to shuffle the deck.
Unable to rely on Rapinoe to make something out of the nothing that had too often passed for the U.S. offense of late, Ellis unshackled Carli Lloyd. With Lauren Holiday sitting alongside Rapinoe in the sin bin, Morgan Brian was stationed in front of the back four and Lloyd was given license to roam.
She didn’t have to be told twice. Lloyd attacked, Brian was solid and surprise starter Kelley O’Hara provided a direct approach that relied more on taking on attackers than floating balls into the box.
Ellis also turned to Amy Rodriguez in place of Wambach, looking for more speed up front. And although Rodriguez misplaced her shooting boots, with Alex Morgan ARod allowed the U.S. to play a pressing style that kept China on its heels for most of the match.
Against China the Americans looked like a team that could challenge for this World Cup for the first time since landing in Canada.
Except for one thing, goals. The U.S. dominated a young China side without a single player with even one minute of World Cup experience, and yet the U.S. only won the game 1-0.
Germany will be the favorite in Montreal, they have earned that. But they are not unbeatable. Germany have gifted attackers in Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic, just two of a group of dangerous attackers.
Where Germany might be vulnerable is in defense. France opened the German defense up, especially when flyer Elodie Thomis ran at the German fullbacks.
The U.S. doesn’t have a winger quite as fast as Thomis, but Ellis can choose among several wide options with speed. Players like O’Hara, Heather O’Reilly and Christen Press have the pace to trouble Leonie Maier and Tabea Kemme, who it must be said are very good players.
Defensively the U.S. back four has been virtually impenetrable, surrendering just one goal in the tournament, none over the last 423 minutes.
Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston are the rock solid core of the defense. Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg the versatile fullbacks who get up and down the flanks while never forgetting that it is defense first.
Can they hold off Mittag and Sasic? What about creative supersub Dzsenifer Marozsan, powerful Alexandra Popp and the rest?
Both teams are more effective when they press. Sauerbrunn and Johnston may be better suited to handle the press than their German counterparts Annike Krahn and Babett Peter, who struggled at times under French pressure.
With so much at stake the two teams may elect to play it safe, but if Ellis and Germany’s Silvia Neid send their teams out with an aggressive plan we could in for a thriller.
We could be in for something special.
U,S.A. vs Germany
Tuesday, June 30 at 7pm ET
Olympic Stadium, Montreal