Germany v Japan (Wolfsburg)
Many commentators suggested prior to the tournament that Japan’s 4th ranking in the world was perhaps “soft”, and that a great deal should not be expected from the Asian 3rd place qualifier in this game.
Additionally, being drawn against the pre-tournament favourite and Group A winners was thought to be a nightmare matchup for them. Indeed, under Silvie Neid’s leadership Germany has not been defeated in world cup play.
The expected ‘formality’ did not occur, however. Germany’s first touch – used to brilliant effect in the group round – seemed to desert them from the early stages in this tie.
Grings, Garefrekas, Da Mbabi and Behringer all missed from easily within strike range. In the sixth minute the hosts suffered a significant loss when gifted 21yr old MF Kim Kulig – a physical force throughout the tournament thus far – had to be substituted with what looked like a serious knee injury suffered after an aerial challenge.
Thereafter the expected German domination in midfield was not evident.
Japan’s squad played a rigid formation and pressured the German attackers & midfield relentlessly. Despite a significant height advantage, Germany seemed unable to create solid chances with any regularity.
When they did, the attackers either failed to get on target or found well placed Japanese defenders ready and able to clear off the goal line. Japan closed down rapidly and forced their opponents to move the ball quickly, thus limiting German opportunities to use set attacking moves from the run of play.
The pace, focus and concentration of the Japanese side was very impressive. They dominated possession, despite creating very little work for German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer.
Throughout the middle part of the game, Germany unexpectedly pulled Garefrekas back from her usual attacking wide MF role. The height advantage she has should have been virtually impossible for the Japanese defense to counter, and yet this option seemed not to be fully exploited.
When Neid pushed her forward again in the last few minutes of regulation, Germany actually created their best chances of the game.
In stoppage time, Garefrekas may well have been fouled by the Japanese defense while going up for a header on the edge of the six yard box. The match official chose to let play carry on, however. The game remained scoreless into extra time, despite Germany looking the far more dangerous side.
Just moments into extra time, ‘the shoe was on the other foot’ as it were. Simone Laudehr blocked out Japan’s captain Homare Sawa at the edge of the box, then launched a studs up back kick into her opponent’s midsection.
In fairness, it appeared that Laudehr was trying a backheel pass toward a teammate, but the move was reckless and the offending foot came up well after the ball was away.
Sawa dropped immediately and was carried off. As with the Garefrekas call minutes earlier, the match official chose not to issue a card to the offender.
Germany created a couple of great scoring opportunities in extra time, perhaps the best being Inka Grings interception of a weak back pass in Japan’s 18yd box. Not 15 yds out and with only the goalkeeper to beat, she pushed wide what seemed a simple finish. She was substituted immediately afterward.
For the Germans, the unthinkable happened just ten minutes later: Sawa turned in front of the their defense and fired a beautiful through ball to the edge of the six yard box.
Karina Maruyama ran onto it and placed a perfect strike past the outstretched defender (Bartusiak), across Angerer (who dived to cover the exposed short side) and just into the far side of the net.
Some have commented on Angerer’s positioning on this play (she left the short side open, presumably to lure Maruyama into shooting for it), but no credit can be taken from Maruyama in my opinion.
She refused to take the bait and fired a fine, fine strike to the small sliver of net available.
Japan then subbed on a defensive player to lock down the victory. Germany kept pressure on the Japanese goal (Garefrekas again having the ball just bounce poorly for her and sending her strike wide) but could not equalize.
All in all, one is left with the feeling that Japan played brilliantly and deserved their win, but that perhaps the best all round team in the tournament has been eliminated.
Finally, a word on the match commentary. Steve Banyard is a top quality announcer and FIFA rightly approved him for this tournament.
However, late in this match, he was moved to make comments about the appearance of German Coach Sylvie Neid (for the record the comment was to the effect that “the elegant and graceful Sylvie Neid, she wouldn’t look out-of-place on a Parisian runway”).
I’m sure Banyard meant the statement in the most complimentary way possible.
However, that kind of compliment has no place in the official coverage of the most prestigious tournament in women’s football.
While not intentionally dismissive, I’m sure, it was irrelevant to the game and implies that there is some form of link between Silvie Neid’s appearance and either her selection or performance.
Sylvie Neid is an accomplished footballer and manager. She deserves to be recognized for that, not patronized for her appearance or choice of attire.
Perhaps when commentators also feel the need to note that, for example, Sir Alex Ferguson “looks dressed for a night out down by the docks in Glasgow”, this sort of comment will be acceptable.
Until then, it is not and represents a blot on an otherwise excellent commentary record, as well as unnecessarily taking the focus away from the game itself.
France v England (Leverkusen)
Unlucky France finished second in Group A, thus drawing an impressive England side – victors in Group B – featuring one of the best attackers in the women’s game (Kelly Smith) as well as solid goal keeping (Karen Bardsley).
Further encumbering the French side was the loss of #1 goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz to a red card in their final group game against Germany.
England played defensively during the first half, scarcely troubling the French goal. The impressive French passing game continued into this fixture, no doubt prompting English coach Hope Powell’s tactical decision.
Indeed, France dominated the run of play in this game and were unlucky not to score, due mainly to the skill (and, at times, good fortune) of Bardsley in net.
Controversy abounded in the 59th minute when Kelly Smith appeared to handle the ball prior to launching a pass forward to Jill Scott just outside the penalty area.
French goalkeeper Celine Deville initially charged the ball, then found herself caught in no man’s land as Scott popped the ball neatly over her for the game’s opening goal.
Curiously, French Manager Bruno Bini subbed off star midfielder Louisa Necib before the 80th minute. Necib had not troubled the goalkeeper often but had been a key player in midfield for France throughout.
Despite several attempts on goal for France in the last 15 minutes, it was beginning to look like England would be through to the semi finals on the Scott goal when Elise Bussaglia launched a wonder strike from the edge of the 18 yd box.
The ball hammered off the left post (nearly coming right back across the face of goal) far beyond the reach of Bardsley, putting France back on level footing in the 88th minute and ultimately forcing extra time.
England became more tactically aggressive in the extra time, forcing the ball forward and creating a few chances. Striker Ellen White nearly put them ahead in the 103rd minute, turning and firing just outside the right hand post.
The French midfield created several chances in extra time also, but ultimately nothing came of them. One wonders how Necib might have fared had she not been taken off. At the end of ET, England had almost balanced the time of possession.
The two AET halves passed without any scoring, leading to the first penalty kick decider of the 2011 world cup. This looked very much to play into England’s hands with the highly ranked, agile and tall Bardsley in goal against France’s second string Keeper.
Indeed, the penalty kicks did not start well for France, as Camille Abily hit a weak effort that Bardsley stopped with relative ease. Thereafter the sides traded successes until England’s Claire Rafferty pulled her effort wide of the right hand post.
France had their reprieve, and Eugenie Le Somner made good on their final kick. This left the England Captain Fay White with the game resting on her foot. She hit the ball quickly and with power, beating DeVille easily.
Sadly for White, though, the ball struck the crossbar and bounced away. England’s 2011 World cup was over.
A difficult ending for England. However, it must be said to be a just result for France as they had outplayed their opponent for much of the match, recording no less than 33 shots to England’s 7 and easily outpacing them on legitimate scoring chances.
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