USA USA vs. France France

Wednesday, July 13th 2011, 18.00 CET

Today, the two most spectacular teams left in this edition of FIFA Women’s World Cup will compete for a place in the final. Both teams come after penalty shootouts in the semis, France defeating England, and the US defeating Brazil. Both matches have been outstanding, and also overwhelming for the players, either physically and emotionally. Now, just 2 or 3 days away, they face each other in the semi-final.

The USA team are probably still high on their victory against Brazil. Maybe that’s “so yesterday”, but you have to give them credit for that win. Wambach’s goal in the 122nd minute kept the Americans in the game, more stressful than ever, after Brazil scored early in the added time with a penalty goal from Marta in the 92nd minute. The Americans defeated the Brazilians 3-5 at penalties. Now with Brazil and Germany gone, the US seems the most capable team of winning the whole thing, like they did back in 1999. In fact, since then they stopped in the semis every time, with Germany winning the 2003 and 2007 editions.

The USA now are not what they used to be back in 1999. The players are all new and willing to prove themselves. As winners of the Olympic games, they have a reputation already. And since a victory is well within their reach against France, why not? Their largest drawback is the absence of their defensive cornerstone, Rachel Buehler. Buehler got a red card against Brazil, so she is suspended for the match. That is certainly a disadvantage, given that the Americans rely on phisical strength more than tactic. Becky Sauerbrunn is likely to replace Buehler today.

France also come after grueling penalty shootouts against England,

but they’ve had one extra day of rest. Similar to the Americans, the French were kept in the game thanks to a late goal, that of Bussaglia in the 88th minute of regular time. After over two hours of play, the French have made it in the semi-finals for the first time ever! But odds are against them now that they face the more powerful USA team. They might well stop here, and compete for the 3rd place, but I am sure Les Bleus are excluding that option.

What the French can’t match in strength, they can do in creativity. They’ve had one extra day of rest, so that lessens the Americans’ advantage. And they have creative players, such as playmaker Louisa Necib, who was compared to Zinedine Zidane. Their tactics rely on short passes at midfield and fluidly-constructed attacks from the back. The players know each other very well, since 10 of the 22 players now in Germany come from Olympique Lyonnais, winners of the Women’s Champions League. With Marie-Laure Delie in the attack the French are quick, unpredictable and highly motivated to write history today.

It will be interesting to watch the French short passes and creativity against the US’s long passes and physical strength based on their defense. With Buehler out, it is uncertain whether the US will adopt the same style of play though. The bookies have the USA as clear favourites, at 1.80 odds, compared to the 4.25 given to the French. Both seem juicy though, and both teams proved they can come back (and win) from very late into the game. So we will witness a very tense game up to the final whistle. What I can say is that both teams have an apetite for goals. I expect the match to go above the 2.5 goal mark. Odds are 2.00 for that to happen on Bwin. I will stake 2 units on an O2.5 at 2.00 odds. And I am also betting on a draw. I expect the game to go in the added time, given that both teams are capable of turning things around in the last minutes of the game.

Prediction: O2.5 goals for 2 units, Draw for 2 units

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