Sweden v Australia (Augsburg)
Surprising Australia, who qualified for the second round by virtue of a tenacious victory over Norway on a pair of Kyah Simon goals in their final group game, were in tough against Group C winners undefeated Sweden.
Captain Caroline Seger returned to the Swedish midfield after completing her suspension (2Y) in their final group game.
Sweden started in a relaxed pace, holding possession fairly easily on a hot day in Augsburg. Australia narrowly avoided disaster in the first ten minutes when a weak back pass by Kim Carroll wasn’t properly corralled by striker Lotta Schelin lurking in the 18yard box.
In the 11th minute, Schelin redeemed herself with a beautiful pass to Sjogran 12 yards out. She hammered the ball short side on Australia goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri, who managed to get her hands on the ball but could not keep it out of the net.
It was a strong shot, but one an elite goalkeeper should really turn away.
Just after the 15′ mark Sjogran beat right back Elysse Perry (making her first World Cup start) wide then lofted a fine cross to Lisa Dahlkvist just off the six yard box. Left unmarked, the Swedish sniper made no mistake, heading the ball firmly into the far corner of the net, leaving Barbieri with no chance.
At this point, the game looked to be well and truly over. The Australian defense had no answer to the pace or ball handling of Sjogran and Schelin. On 20′ Schelin launched a cross to the head of Oqvist in the six yard box. This could have put the ribbon on it all, but Oqvist failed to put the ball in.
Despite being badly outplayed in the first half an hour, Australia regrouped. Collette McCallum narrowly missed a curling free-kick from 35 yards out with ten minutes left in the half.
And just a minute later, the previously victimized Perry put the Aussies back in the game with a truly magical strike. From a short corner to the right of goalkeeper Lindahl, Perry hammered the ball over the Swedish defense and picked the top left corner beautifully.
It will be one of the goals of the tournament when all is said and done.
After the break Australia came out racy again. They held possession well and kept the Swedish attack at bay.
Old habits die-hard, however, and in the 52′ Carroll rolled another soft back pass toward Barbieri. This time, Schelin had anticipated it.
She intercepted the ball easily, evaded the charging goalkeeper and popped it in the back of the Australian goal to restore Sweden’s two goal margin. Seldom at this level do players get away with the same mistake more than once.
Just three minutes later, Schelin found herself alone behind the defense after a perfectly timed pass and run. Unfortunately, the lines official flagged her incorrectly for offside.
While the officiating has been very good in the tournament thus far, many legitimate scoring opportunities have been flagged by the lines officials. The ‘close’ flagging has been so consistent across the groups and officiating crews that I find myself wondering if this might have been something that FIFA asked for (IE: when in doubt, flag all close calls regardless)?
Australia created a few chances late in the game (Simon headed wide in the 62nd, de Vanna beat Lindahl in the 66th but then put her curling shot wide of the open goal), but Sweden never looked to be in real trouble.
The only problem for them was a couple of truly foolish yellow cards taken in the last ten minutes, one of which will keep sometime Captain Nilla Fischer (scorer of the winning goal in the group tie with the USA) out of the semifinal.
At this stage of a tournament, taking unnecessary yellow cards for yapping at the officials when the game is won is simply unforgivable. Hopefully Sweden will not regret these errors.
Brazil v USA (Dresden)
With hosts Germany despatched, the major attention was focused on the two remaining traditional heavyweights left in the quarterfinals.
Pia Sundhage’s US team had endured an unusually circuitous route to the knockout round having needed two last chance knockout qualifiers (Costa Rica & Italy) to get into the World cup, and faced the Group D winners Brazil by virtue of losing 2-1 to Sweden in Group C.
Despite world number one ranking coming in, the USA clearly seemed ripe for the taking.
Playing a somewhat out of fashion attacking 3-4-3 system with central defender Daiane in what amounts to a sweeper role, Brazil cruised through their group beating Norway & Equatorial Guinea 3-0 after opening the tournament with a surprisingly close 1-0 win over Australia.
After years of promise (and the five time women’s player of the year, Marta, on form), Brazil looked like they were finally ready to defeat their nemesis.
For the US, the three player back line Brazil plays presented plenty of opportunity. With Wambach notionally a lone striker with Rodriguez in support, Sundhage used Heather O’Reilly and Lauren Cheney pushed forward at the wing to draw out the centre backs and create space for Wambach in the middle.
With Fabiana and Maurine (both listed as defenders) playing wide midfield roles for Brazil, the US frequently forced them back to provide cover in the corners.
The action started in the worst possible way for Brazil. Just after the 1′ mark US midfielder Shannon Boxx crossed the ball into the Brazil area.
Daiane’s clearance attempt went badly wrong. The ball shanked off the side of her foot straight into her own net, putting the South Americans down almost from the opening whistle.
After this, the match settled into a messy and disorganized period. Brazil, in fact, didn’t record their first shot on the US goal until the 37th minute. A minute later, Fabiana intercepted a Rodriguez pass just on the US 18yd box and broke wide toward net. She launched a high ball over Hope Solo, but it bounced harmlessly off the bar.
Just before the break, the play began to go against Brazil. Rangy forward Abby Wambach was fouled by Brazilian Captain Aline. In truth, Wambach did go down rather easily, but Aline was carded for the foul (a harsh decision) and Marta, outraged by the yellow, stood over Wambach barking and then castigated referee Jacqui Melksham (Australia) forcefully for good measure.
Melksham understandably tired of this rather quickly and issued a yellow to Marta as well. These are the kind of unnecessary errors that pave the road to ruin, player of the year or not.
The second half began relatively quietly by comparison. Whistles and catcalls from the fans were evident as the level play degraded. With the wide MF players for Brazil tracking back and shutting down the US attack, Sundhage first moved Lauren Cheney into a more central role, then subbed her for Megan Rapinoe in the 54th. This would prove to be an inspired decision.
Then came a period of pressure from Brazil. Just on 60′, Cristiane pulled up just outside the area and floated a lovely curling left footer toward goal. It was not wide enough to beat Solo cleanly, though she bungled the save, dropped the ball and then watched it roll harmlessly away from the open goalmouth before grabbing it again.
In the 65th minute, the first of the match “moments’ occurred. Marta, attacking the US goal from the left, lobbed the ball perfectly over Rachel Buehler & Christie Rampone, then ran around them, breaking in on net.
Buehler, having little option, obstructed her and Marta went down (theatrically, some would say). The referee did not hesitate in awarding a penalty, and also issued a straight red card to Buehler for denying what she deemed to be a certain goal scoring opportunity.
The replay seemed to support the awarding of a penalty, but the red card seemed harsh given the nature of the foul. Certainly Buehler obstructed Marta.
Whether she actually took her down is another matter. Additionally, two other defenders and the goalkeeper were closing on the free ball.
While Marta might have retaken possession and scored, no-one can know for certain that none of the other three wouldn’t have beaten her to it.
The immediate drama was far from over, however. Cristiane hit a good ball toward the right side of goal and Solo leapt to save it brilliantly.
While the US were celebrating the PK save, referee Melksham ordered the kick retaken. She had, in fairness, warned Solo to stay on her line very clearly prior to the PK. However, the replay showed that Solo had moved laterally along the line, not forward of it appreciably.
If that were the call, it was unduly harsh. When Solo complained, she too was carded. Information later came that the retake may have been due to encroachment. If so, that might have been an even less valid reason for the call. Nonetheless, Marta lined up for the rekick and made no mistake, Brazil were level at 1.
Now down to 10, the US looked in trouble. With a full 25 minutes left in regulation we might have expected Brazil to press forward Amazingly, though, this did not happen.
The remainder of the match saw a return to the tentative ‘chess match’ approach that both teams had started the second half with. Daiane’s unhappy experience continued in the 3rd minute of stoppage time when Morgan hammered the ball into her midsection from close range.
At that, Melksham whistled the end of 90 minutes. Extra time for the third instance in the quarterfinals.
Immediately into extra time, Marta one timed a pass from the wing, lobbing the ball over Solo into the far side of the net. It was a fine goal, if perhaps fortunate, by the game’s best player.
In the 97th, Abby Wambach narrowly missed putting the US back in front on a brilliant shot low and left on the Brazilian goal. Andreia’s outstretched fingers just pushed it wide.
The game again went relatively quiet as Brazil looked to preserve the win. They began time-wasting relatively early – an unfortunate election that cheapened what looked like being a historic victory for them.
The greatest offender was Erika, who stayed down for a full 3 minutes of the final 7 in extra time. No sooner had she been stretchered off than she leapt off to her feet and ran to the 4th official, ready to return.
The referee rightly carded her for this offense, but the real punishment for Brazil would come in the form of a full 3 minutes of stoppage time added.
With just 90 seconds of stoppage time to go, the second of this game’s great moments occurred.
It came from strong run down the left flank by Megan Rapinoe (who’s set piece kicks had been a highlight for the US since she was brought on), there followed a beautifully floated cross to the head of Abby Wambach who hammered home the finish, levelling the match at 2 in it’s final moments.
Andreia had rushed out to take the cross but was obstructed by her own defender (the unfortunate Daiane playing Wambach onside from the sweeper’s position).
Absent interference, it is uncertain whether the goalkeeper would have gotten a hand to the ball. Even for the most ardent Brazil (or just non-US) fan, however, the only comment possible was “wow”.
Wambach scarcely had a few inches to tuck the ball inside the post, but she placed it perfectly. This match, like England-France before it, would be decided on penalty kicks
Sadly for the embattled Brazilian central defender, her troubles were not behind her.
In the third round of penalty kicks, she launched a kick to the left hand side of Solo’s goal. The line was good, but the ball was at a perfect height to be saved.
Solo stuck out her right hand while launching herself through the air and knocked the ball outside the right hand post.
It would be the only save made.
The Americans potted their next two chances and Brazil found themselves on their way back home wondering how they had been beaten.
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