Japan vs. Sweden 

Wednesday, July 13th 2011, 20.45 CET

This second semi-final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, played on Commerzbank-Arena from Frankfurt, is the first one in 15 years in which Germany does not take part. The surprise elimination of the hosts in the quarter finals have made Japan become the “black horse” of the semifinals, and it has shaken all the bookies’ odds and expectations. It also means that previous statistics matter little in the present situation.

Japan have had a fantastic run, now playing for the first time ever in the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. They have passed the ultimate test in the quarter finals, when they faced the hosts Germany, who hadn’t lost a World Cup match in 15 years, in Germany and in front of 26.067 German fans. Previous to that match, Japan had never won a game against an European side at any World Cup, and they had never made it past the quarter finals. Germany, on the other hand, were the defenders of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, and looked more confident than ever. In such a crucial game, and under huge pressure, Japan kept organized and stayed positive throughout. One goal in the 108th minute was all they needed to crush the world champions.

Though they only scored one goal in their last 2 games, Japan has clearly learned a lot from their defeat against England, and now they take advantage of the huge momentum they have to make history today and reach the World Cup Final! They will most likely take control of possession in their semi-final match, and hope for Homare Sawa, their top goalscorer, to get through Sweden’s strong defense and get the ball in the net.

Sweden have not had a real test since their last group game against the USA. They won that one 2 to 1. Then, as in their quarter final game against Australia, the Swedes kept their ground and stuck to their tactics. They showed a very calculated and professional play in both matches, and that guaranteed their resistance against their opponent’s numerous attacks. One thing that is obvious from both these matches, is that Sweden started off with furious attacks and scored twice in the first half. Then they relied on their strong defense and on counter attacks, with Lotta Schelin’s speed far superior to most defenders’. She wasn’t named man of the match in Sweden’s last two matches for nothing.

It is surprising to see in the statistics that Sweden scored 5 goals in their past 2 games.

That is unlike Japan, who only scored one. Surprising because, however strategic the Swedes play, scoring goals is not their strong point. Their first two games in this World Cup made that clear, with two single-goal victories for the North Europeans. It may now appear that Sweden’s attack has unleashed its full goal-scoring potential, but really it is the pressure at the beginning of the game and the momentum thereafter that gives the Swedes this goal-scoring ability. Without a goal in the first 30 minutes, as we’ve seen in their first 2 matches, it’s very hard for them to score one later in the game.

Looking at recent statistics between the two teams, Japan holds the upper ground. In their four recent matches against Sweden, they won twice and drew the other two. Even this year, Japan won one and drew once against Sweden. That’s certainly not comforting for Sweden ahead of the semi-final game. And it shouldn’t be, because too much comfort have made the Germans lose their last game. Still, Sweden is given more chances at the bookies, with 2.20 odds at Bwin, while Japan is worth 3.2, same as a draw. Seen that goalscoring is not the strong point of either team, an Under 2.5 would be appropriate at 1.62 odds. There goes 2 units of mine. And 2 units go on Sweden to win, at 2.2 odds.

Prediction: U2.5 goals for 2 units, Sweden to win for 2 units

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