Yes, the U.S. dominated top ranked (for now) Germany in defeating it 2-0 in the World Cup semifinal.
Yes, Japan looked pedestrian, and more than a little lucky, in downing England 2-1 in the other semifinal.
Yes, the U.S. seems to be peaking, as coach Jill Ellis has repeatedly said was the goal, at the right time.
But don't forget 2011.
After Abby Wambach's goal at the death against Brazil in the quarterfinals in 2011 eventually led to an American win on penalty kicks, the U.S. cruised 3-1 over France in the semis. It appeared that the U.S. was truly a team of destiny.
But then it lost to Japan 3-1 in the Final in penalty kicks. After extra time ended with a dramatic Japanese goal by eventual Golden Boot winner Homare Sawa. And, perhaps even more egregious, it squandered a seemingly safe 1-0 lead with nine minutes left in regulation after some Keystone Cops defending that allowed Japan to equalize when it had barely threatened the entire game.
While the U.S. defense is much stouter this time around, surely 2011 was a lesson that the Japanese are every bit as tough and resilient as are the Americans. And Japan is not without skill - its players may be the most technically adept of any at the tournament.
I've witnessed some crazy talk on Fox Sports over the last few days. 3-0 U.S. seems to be a standard prediction. Is that within the realm of possibility? Yes. Is it likely given what we know about Japan and the way it's played the last five years? No. Is it likely given the Americans' continuing inability to score in the run-of-play (two goals in the three elimination matches in this tournament)? No.
A friend suggested after the Germany game that he and I needed to continue to trash-talk the U.S. (and particularly its coach) since it seemed to result in better and better performances. And while I'm certainly prepared to do whatever I can to help the cause, Jill Ellis says she doesn't read the papers or on-line articles so I'm not sure it will make any difference other than pure superstition (to which I am admittedly not immune).
It seems that every elimination game has had at least one penalty kick. And my fear is that, as technical as the Japanese are, they won't give one away.
But they did against England.
And they just may again tomorrow.
|Has she got one more in her? (photo from kansascity.com)|