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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

#FinalFour Kicks Off
The #FIFAWWC enters the semi-final stage

The action really picked up last weekend when the 8 best female football nations in the world battled it out on the crisp green pitch across Canada.  While the inaugural Round of 16 seemed to be a bit of a bust, the quarterfinals brought back some the drama, heartache, excitement and intensity sports fans across the world were yearning for during the tournament.

Continuing with the #TwineTime tradition, let's trade some quick penalty kicks to summarize what happened since we last got together:

Wide Miss: The FIFA draw.  Ok this has nothing to do with the action on the field but I feel like FIFA kind of hand picked this Final 4.  When the seeding of the top teams was announced, and assuming no upsets would occur (which they didn't), these four teams were destined to be here.  3 of the top 4 teams in the world are here.  We knew we would lose a top 3 team with #1 Germany and #3 France matching up in the quarterfinal.  This really was advantage England, disadvantage France.  Being the higher seeded team and winning the group was a disadvantage for Les bleues.  England wound up with the easier path.  Sure they had to beat the home nation Canadians, but rather take on Canada than the high-octane Germans right?  With #5 ranked Sweden drawn also against Germany due to their group stage placement with the US, the draw was England's to win...and the Three Lionesses did not disappoint.  This again is not a miss because of these teams and how they played, it is more a miss at the pre-tournament seeding handed down by FIFA. #corruption

Top Shelf Goal: Suspense!  The much anticipated quarterfinal battle between Germany and France did not disappoint.  Finally we saw an equal battle on the field with both teams playing great and neither able to really capitalize.  A 1-1 draw may look a bit boring but the action on the field was quite enjoyable to watch actually.  And then enter penalty kick time!  Exactly what fans have been dying to see this entire event.  5 rounds of penalty kicks was exciting.  Ok sure, watching everyone always score is a bit annoying because it is the misses and saves that really add tension to a penalty kick battle.  But when Lavogez could not convert the do or die goal, the expression of relief on Germany and the anguish of defeat on France said everything.  I cannot do it justice just trying to write about it.  Watch the penalty kicks for yourself HERE

Into The Crowd Miss: Cana-D'Oh!  Everything was set up perfect.  Canada drawn into a possible semi-final showdown with defending champions Japan, on home soil, on Canada Day!!  What more could every sports fan in the Great White North want in July?  All that stood in the way of the dream match up (for organizers and ticket sellers in Edmonton especially) was England.  In a three minute span in the first half, the entire country deflated, let out a huge gasp and hearts sank.  The dream of a possible miracle run for Canada was dashed and their tournament came to an end on June 27.  No medal possibility at home.  All credit to the Canadian national team but this one will sting.  They could have won this match.  For the remainder of the game they pressed hard but could not find the back of the net.  Growing frustrated with missed opportunities and some interesting substitutions in the second half spelled the end of the #CanadaRED.  Credit to England for the victory, they took advantage of Canada errors early and held on.  But this will still be considered a missed opportunity for the Maple Leaf.  Perhaps being the home nation is becoming more a crutch than an advantage.  Canada's exit marks the third straight Women's World Cup where the host nation was eliminated in the quarterfinal stage.  Take note France...you are up next in 2019.

Low Right Goal: The Favorites.  #1 Germany.  #2 USA.  #4 Japan.  The teams expected to be here are here.  Yes the draw may have helped but at the end of the day you still have to play the games and win the games.  These three teams have done so and continue to show why they are the best in the world.  Germany and USA already have 2 titles each, both seeking that leading third.  Japan are the defending champions looking to repeat.  All three teams have played a different type of game to get here but all three have looked impressive heading into their semi-finals matches.  The big #1 vs. #2 rivalry match will take centre stage of course but more on that below.  It is hard to believe any other nation in the world will be able to knock these three teams down a notch in the upcoming years...except maybe....

Down The Pipe Goal: The Underdog?  Welcome to your first Final Four England.  A team many, #TwineTime included, perhaps overlooked heading into this tournament.  The Three Lionesses have roared loud though and appear ready to take the big stage in front of the world.  Heading into a high pressure situation battling Canada at BC Place seemed daunting but rather than play defensively and wait to see what happens, England went full throttle on Canada from the opening whistle.  They got the quick error, received some mental hiccups and BOOM!  England did what they needed to do, outplay the Canadians, attack hard and fast and silence the home crowd.  Let's remember this is the #6 ranked team in the world too.  Perhaps we need to start considering them a real shot at winning this event.  How many predicted Japan to win in Germany 4 years ago?  Could England be the 2015 version?

So when we add up our quarterfinal round penalty kicks, it appears we can call this a win 3-2.  Another close battle but this playoff round really elevated the game back to the world class competition we all expected.  Sure Canada losing will deflate some ticket sales domestically but the impact of the team's playoff run, coupled with the other outstanding games played, will only help grow the sport internationally.  Let's hope this continues for the remainder of this tournament.

Speaking of, let's get to the #TwineTime predictions for the #FinalFour:


Germany #GER vs. USA #USA

The epic battle continues for Germany.  After escaping a heated contest with European rivals France, they now enter the danger zone against World Cup rivals USA.  You could not find two football super powers with more tradition than these two.  Both have competed in all 7 FIFA Women's World Cups.  Both have two titles to show.  The USA has made the semifinal round in every single Women's World Cup and have never finished lower than third.  These teams have a rich history and are certainly no stranger to one another.  They have met three previous occasions with the USA winning the early bouts (5-2, 1991 and 3-2, 1999).  But it is that last encounter that still stings in the hearts of the Stars and Stripes.  The 3-0 domination win by the German's at the World Cup in 2003 (held in the USA) set the tone for the German future.  It was that semifinal win that catapulted the German's to their first Women's World Cup title and began their rise to #1 in the world.  Can the USA extract some revenge from 12 years ago?  Germany enter this match having scored the most goals of this tournament with 20.  The USA enter having allowed the fewest, only 1 and that was in their opening game vs. Australia.  Hope Solo could become the story of this entire tournament should the USA continue to win.  Kicked off the team in the past and almost an afterthought in USA football, Solo has rediscovered the magic that made her legacy.  She has now gone 423 minutes without conceding a goal, a new national record.  Solo will have to continue this stellar play though to fend off the German attack.

#TwineTime pick:  #GER 2 - #USA 1 (a.e.t.)

Japan #JPN vs. England #ENG

These two teams have some similarities in the paths taken to get here.  Both teams seem quite happy with the more low-scoring, close game affairs.  England have played, and won, four straight 2-1 games.  Japan have claimed five-straight one goal victories.  Basically, assume a close contest right to the final whistle.  England's Lucy Bronze provided the knock-out punch for Canada and will look to do the same vs. the defending champs.  The combination of Bronze, Jodie Taylor and Karen Carney present a challenge for Japan defenders.  England will have a quite different problem trying to slow down the Japanese.  Japan comes out hard in the first half and plays a strong defensive game for the second half.  Oddly enough, all of Japan's goals throughout this tournament have been scored by a different player.  How do you best defend a team full of scoring threats?  England will need to find a way.  An advantage for England could be their recent record against Japan.  In their past three encounters, England have managed 2 draws and 1 win, 2-0 group stage at Germany 2011.  England had a similar advantage record vs. Canada and look how well that worked.  Japan, on the other hand, are the defending champions and fresh off their first Asian title.  If Japan can pull off this victory, it will be their third straight international finals appearance, having won the Women's World Cup in Germany (2011) and the silver medal finish at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.  Hmmm perhaps we even see a London rematch in the final here with Japan vs. USA?

#TwineTime pick:  #JPN 1 - #ENG 0

If you are in Montreal tonight or Edmonton tomorrow, I recommend heading down and checking out one of these great semifinal matches.  The experience of being in a stadium during a FIFA Women's World Cup match is remarkable and one for the memory books.  As always, feel free to share your thoughts on my predictions but, most importantly, enjoy the action on the pitch.