England England vs. France France

Saturday, July 9th 2011, 18.00 CET

The first match of the quarter finals in this year’s Women’s World Cup brings together two “ancient” rivals, both in men’s soccer and women’s football alike. Tomorrow’s duel on Leverkusen stadium is all the more special as neither of the teams ever made it to the semifinals of Women’s World Cup. The stakes are huge, the teams are fit and ready and the crowds will definitely fill the stadium tomorrow. The question is: who goes further and who goes back?

Morale-wise, England has the advantage. Powell’s girls have huge momentum after their 2-0 victory against Japan, the world’s 4th best team. Looking at their next match against France, the 8th best team, you might say it’s as easy as pie. Think again: England is actually 3 places BEHIND France in the rankings, and that certainly makes a difference. Nonetheless, England’s victory against Japan on Tuesday regained the fans’ support and the girls’ confidence, after their draw against Mexico and their hard-fought victory over New Zealand. Against Japan, Powell also tried out some new tactics, involving new players that paid the team great dividends. They will, however, give the coach a hard time deciding who’s in and who’s out in the start-up team facing France.

Powell has some decisions to make in the defense.Sophie Bradley, the 21-year old defender of Lincoln ladies, is in England’s squad for the first time ever at a Women’s World Cup. She impressed with her efforts of keeping the Japanese attack away from England’s goal in the previous game, when she started instead of Faye White, the 33-year old captain of the team. In both matches before that, Bradley was preferred as a substitute to White late in the game. It seems she may have earned her place in the first XI, but would that determine Powell to start without the veteran White in such an important game? It’s hard to say. In a BBC interview, Powell said that “Faye leads by example. She has had a torrid time in recent years with injuries and she has bounced back and worked extremely hard to put herself in a position to play.“All in all, should White not be fit for the game, the due Bradley-Stoney looks like a perfect choice for Powell.

Looking on the other side, the French team is not in a mood as good as the English. They were blocked from participating at the last edition of the Women’s World Cup by a double draw against England. And in their last match they lost 2-4 to Germany. Granted they played over 25 minutes in 10 players, the French clearly lacked aerial strength and nerve towards the end. More importantly, the red card received by Sapowicz in the game against Germany means that France’s first choice goalkeeper will be absent against England. That’s a clear moral disadvantage for the French girls, despite the fact that her replacement, Celine Deville had a good performance in her last game.

France are a very technical side and very aggressive in their play. “, Powell said. She also acknowledged the fact that France today is much better than they were in the 2007 World Cup qualifiers, when they were denied participation by England. The French team is the 2009 European champions, and a lot of the girls playing were recruited from their Under 19s squad. Apart from that, Elodie Thomis can be a serious menace for the English central defenders. It will be up to Stoney and White/Bradley to stop her, although if she gets too much space, no one can stop Thomis. She proved it in the game against Canada, and in the last game against England in 2009.

As you can see, both teams have their pros and cons, and overall it is a tough football prediction. Looking at the bookies, France are favourites with 2.2 odds, while England have 3.05. My football tip is to go safe on this one, and bet for both teams to score at 1.75 odds on Bwin. I’m betting 3 units on that. Also, since both teams are scoring-happy, I’m going for an over 2.5 at 1.95 odds for 2 units. If I were to say who wins this one, I’d go for England, though I’m not willing to stake anything on that match prediction.

 Prediction: Both to score for 3 units, o2.5 for 2 units

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