With the World Cup semifinal matches set to begin this Tuesday, four teams are currently vying to hoist the trophy on July 5. Of the remaining teams, three of those squads are ranked in the top five in the world. France was eliminated after being deadlocked for 120 minutes before losing to top-ranked Germany in penalty kicks.
With host country Canada eliminated in the quarterfinals, all eyes now shift to the final four teams battling it out.
United States vs. Germany
How each team got here
The U.S. defeated Australia and Nigeria in group play and won their group. They have advanced to the semifinal stage by defeating Colombia and China, but none of those teams are considered top-tier in the world of women’s football.
In the case of China, no player on the roster had any experience in the international arena, and the 1-0 victory by the U.S. was considered less than stellar. The German women opened group play with a 10-0 thrashing of the Ivory Coast and beat Thailand 4-0, sandwiched by a 1-1 draw against Norway. Their last two games, however, saw them defeat highly-ranked competitors Sweden and France to set up the match against the Americans.
What to expect
While the United States have displayed a tenacious and gritty defense, their offense has been lackluster and uneven. Megan Rapinoe has been their offensive catalyst, while Alex Morgan has been slow to recover from her injury and Abby Wambach seems to be a shadow of her former self. In spite of this, U.S. manager Jill Ellis has seemed reluctant to make any tactical changes on offense.
With a more potent offense needed against a talent-laden German team, it would seem critical to adjust any game plan to the realities of the match. For the Germans to advance, their forwards will need to best their American counterparts. While the U.S. has displayed a solid defense thus far in the tournament, they do not possess speed in their back line, and one would expect the Germans to try to exploit this as an offensive opportunity.
Who will advance
The U.S. will be able to hold the Germans at bay for a while, but the offensive superiority of Germany will be too much for Julie Johnston and Hope Solo.
Germany 2, U.S. 1.
England vs. Japan
How both teams got here
Every match played by the English women resulted in one-goal games. Group play saw The Lionesses lose to France 1-0, then beat Mexico and Colombia by identical 2-1 scores. This was followed by 2-1 victories against Norway and Canada, no small task against the host country. For Japan, winners of the last World Cup, they have yet to lose any of their matches, with each win accomplished by a one-goal margin. To reach the semifinals, they defeated a tough Australian squad who proved to be a formidable opponent technically and physically.
What to expect
England plays a style of football similar to the Matildas of Australia, and with much of the physical play not whistled by the referee, they can be expected to maintain that style of play. England manager Mark Sampson has the Three Lionesses playing up to the potential of a FIFA sixth-ranked team, and will now try to take his squad to the finals. For Japan, ranked fourth in the world, they have displayed patience, using ball control and teamwork to advance to the semifinal match. While not a physical team themselves, they have shown that they can win the physical matches by defeating the Matildas in the quarte-finals. This game is expected to be similar to their last one.
Who will advance
In a hard-fought match reminiscent of their World Cup win against the U.S four years ago, Japan will beat England in penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 draw in regulation time and advance to the final against Germany.
So which team is the favorite to hoist the cup on July 5?
Japan is the current reigning champion of the Women’s World Cup, but the finals in 2015 will see a new champion emerge. Germany will show why they are ranked No. 1 in the wolrd, control the tempo of the game and emerge victorious, bringing the Cup back to Germany.