In the most highly anticipated game of this year's tournament, defensive powerhouse USA and dangerous attack Germany will battle it out for the opportunity to become the first team in history to win three Women's World Cup titles.
The contest--more likely to look like combat--takes place tonight in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, where No. 1 Germany narrowly advanced past France in the quarterfinal game last week. Third-ranked France maintained possession for the majority of the game, scoring early in the second half, following 28 touches in the attacking third as compared to Germany's mere five within the first ten minutes of the match. Germany's only goal during regular play came off a penalty kick, which tournament-leading scorer Celia Sasic put in the back of the net. Though this quarterfinal was expected to be an entertaining competition, most fans and analysts forecast a W for the Germans. As a player who has watched a win slip from my grasp as the result of a shootout, I can affirmatively say that is no way to win or lose a game. The Germans ought not to be as confident as they might have been earlier in the tournament.
I relay the same advice to the Americans. Though I'll be cheering for USA every moment of the match, I am worried for our women.
"Although offensive play is important," says US defender Becky Sauerbrunn, "it's defending that gets you titles. Even when matches don't work out the way you planned, you've always got to stay strong in defense; it's a matter of willpower and intelligence." This comes in response to team USA setting a FIFA Women's World Cup record for consecutive scoreless minutes: 423. After beating China in last week's quarterfinal, the US became the first team to reach the semifinals of all seven World Cups. But contrary to Sauerbrunn's vote of confidence, teams that don't score cannot win games, either. The statistic I'm looking for is most Women's World Cup titles, and semifinals and shutouts do not equate to that.
That being said, the Americans have been able to move through the tournament while not at their best. Missing starters Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday on a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, USA was still able to make a big enough impact on the front line and hedge over China 1-0. Goal-scoring has not come easily for the Americans in this tournament, in contrast with the Germans who have scored 20 goals so far. But the quarterfinal against China showed that the US has some depth on the front line, a weapon that will come in handy against the beat-up Germans, laden with yellow cards, and likely still trying to recover from their hard-fought meeting with France. What's more, the Germans do not have the technical ability of France, which the Americans are better equipped to handle after the match "confidence gained from playing higher pressure defense against China" that will allow them to "come with even more pressure on both sides of the ball," says espnW analyst and former US women's national team midfielder Julie Foudy.
Maybe they're not the favorite, but I pick the Americans to emerge the conquering heroes at the end of regulation this evening. Historically, when Germany and team USA have met in the World Cup, the winner has gone on to win it all. The teams' last meeting in April 2013, ended in a 3-3 tie, though this World Cup alone shows how much both teams have evolved since then.
As forward Abby Wambach put it, "If you've got to play two more games you might as well play in the final."