Wow did the month of June go by fast. Can you believe just 4 short weeks ago we were ready to kick off the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup? Now here we are preparing for the closing weekend and getting ready to crown a champion. Canada opened up it's borders to the football world over the past month and, based on feedback via traditional/social media, fans of the sport have become fans of the Red & White with praise shining down on the host country for their hospitality, friendliness and overall hosting of the entire event from coast to coast. Great job Canada!
What a crazy semi-final round we experienced this week! An own goal possibly cost an upset bid chance at playing for the title. A favorite completely overshadowed by their opponent. A nation yearning to be #1 took a giant step towards regaining that title. A quiet team, overlooked throughout the tournament, does not appear ready to hand over the title quite yet.
Keeping with #TwineTime tradition, let's line up for some penalty kicks from the SF round:
Off The Post Goal: U-S-Eh! The neighbours to the south seem to be enjoying their time up north. The Americans dominated the top ranked German's in their semi-final and find themselves back in the championship game. Believe it or not, this will be the first time USA has appeared in back-to-back finals. Entering the much anticipated match with Germany, many questioned whether the US could stop the German attack. They not only stopped it but completely dominated the play. These ladies look on a mission to claim their first championship since 1999. It would appear their sister to the north has been a welcoming sight/site.
Off The Fingertip Save: The Upset Bid Falls Short! Oh England...the entire football community suffered a simultaneous jaw drop in the 92nd minute during injury time. The Three Lionesses seemed on the verge of a possible epic upset bid against the defending champs. No team in the entire World Cup has played Japan as tough or looked as confident and capable of knocking them off until England. With injury time ticking away and the strong possibility of extra time, the unthinkable happened. Laura Bassett's life changed in the blink of an eye when the ball left her foot and found the back of the net. Unfortunately it was the back of her own net, causing Japan to erupt in celebration. The upset bid ended. By an own goal. Absolute heartache. Anyone who has ever played a sport, regardless of competition level, has to feel for Bassett in that moment. Just take a look HERE! Cool moment though, if you can find a positive in this situation, is English fans making the hashtag #ProudOfBassett trend after the game.
Down The Middle Goal: Rivalry Reignited! The two best nations in women's soccer weaved their way through the field and find themselves in yet another epic championship final. Japan and USA seem to find ways to win when it matters most and the semi-final round was no exception. Both won in completely opposite manners, with some saying Japan probably should have lost their game. Woulda, coulda, shoulda aside, here we are with a rivalry becoming the new storyline behind women's football. This championship match will be the third straight international tournament final featuring these two nations after the 2011 #FIFAWWC and the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The Land of the Rising Sun vs. The Stars & Stripes. Japan vs. USA. When this tournament started, if you told fans of the sport, FIFA, the organizing committee and tradition/social media members they would end up with this championship match-up, I am confident you would not hear too much complaining. Sure we all have our specific nation(s) we were cheering for, but for the love of the game and to increase the attention of the sport, you could do a lot worse than this final.
Looking at the score card it would appear the semi-final round resulted in a win, final score 2-1. The action and drama on the pitch in both games was incredible, for completely different reasons. Regardless of how both games played out, the end result was excitement for fans and that is exactly what the sport needs.
The final two games hit the pitch in Edmonton and Vancouver this weekend. For the final time of the 2015 #FIFAWWC, #TwineTime offers up predictions.
BRONZE MEDAL MATCH
Edmonton, July 4
Germany #GER vs. England #ENG
The bronze medal match...one of the most difficult games to play in any sport. You are fresh off a heartbreaking loss, watching your dreams of winning a world championship come to an end. Now you have to put the loss behind you, hit the pitch and prepare for another match. To some, this is deemed unnecessary and useless. To others, this match presents the option for a team to finish strong and rebound from a loss with a win. Both sides of the argument are valid, neither matter though. This match will happen and both teams involved will need to regroup and come prepared to battle. The last nations standing from UEFA would both rather be representing their continent in the championship game of course. This will be the second consecutive (and third overall) third place match played between two UEFA nations, after Sweden beat France at this stage in 2011. These two nations are quite familiar with another, having played 20 times since 1984. The Germans OWN this series, having won 18 games with 2 ties. The last time they played was a friendly in November 2014 in London, which Germany won 3-0. They also have history at the Women's World Cup, having played twice. The first match was a complete one-sided German victory (3-0) in the 1995 quarterfinals. The second meeting went a bit better for England during the group stage of 2007, a 0-0 draw.
The big question in this game is can England put the heartbreak loss behind them and come out playing the same type of game that troubled Japan. If they can find the same game plan, they have a legit shot at knocking off Germany for the first time. I fully expect Bassett to focus on the present and be motivated to put the tough loss behind her. The team fully supports her, the nation loves her and I think she will find many fans in the stands as well cheering her on. Karen Carney and Lucy Bronze will also need to come to play and step up in a big way. If England can find the back of the net first, game on! They could pull this "upset" victory off.
And how will the Germans respond to their one-sided loss against the rival Americans? Germany came to Canada with high hopes of keeping the #1 FIFA ranking and recapturing the championship. Will they be as motivated to "settle" for a bronze medal? Celia Sasic and Anjja Mittag will be ready to play and end this tournament with a medal, just may be not the color they originally hoped. Looking for a breakout star perhaps in this game? It could come from Sara Dabritz. She is only 20 years old, fresh off an U20 World Cup championship last year in Canada and scored her first ever senior goal vs. Ivory Coast in the group stage. I would expect to see her on the pitch throughout the match and she could be a difference maker.
I expect both sides to hit the pitch at Commonwealth Stadium looking to give their fans something to cheer for. Germany has looked like the class of the field for most of the tournament and I suspect they are going to come out fired up and a bit angry. The Three Lionesses may find themselves more of the hunted than the hunter. Odd stat though, England have now played 5 straight matches ending with the scoreline of 2-1. Of course they won 4 of those games...but that last one might just still haunt them entering this game. Watch out for Die Nationalelf.
#TwineTime pick: #GER 3 - #ENG 1
GOLD MEDAL MATCH
Vancouver, July 5
Japan #JPN vs. USA #USA
The 2011 Championship rematch. The 2012 London Summer Olympics do-over. Shall we consider this the rubber match? Japan pulled the upset in winning the 2011 final. USA got revenge with Olympic gold. Who can seize the opportunity best? As noted above, these two nations have been the class of female football for the past four years. So should any of us really be surprised to see them in Vancouver playing for the championship trophy?
The Stars & Stripes continue their impressive #FIFAWWC streak, having never finished worse than third in all 7 appearances. A streak that includes of course two championships....but none since 1999. A 16-year drought for a nation often considered the class of women's football is a bit tough to swallow. For many members of this team, this could also be their final World Cup and last chance to go out on top. Carli Lloyd could be the key to an American victory. Already leading the team with 3 goals this tournament, when Lloyd scores vs. Japan it usually ends in a victory. Lloyd scored the game winner in London remember. On the flip side, Lloyd also missed the penalty kick handing the Japanese the World Cup 4 years ago. Which side of Lloyd's foot will the ball bounce this time? Also, can Hope Solo continue her incredible streak? Solo has now gone 5 straight games without allowing a goal. The USA have allowed 1 goal all tournament...and that came way back on June 8 in their opener vs. Australia. If Solo can continue this unbelievable streak, the title will head back to CONCACAF.
The Nadeshiko have quite a different history. They have only rose to power and fame in women's football over the past 4 years. Their World Cup championship run 4 years ago was considered, at the time, one of the biggest upsets in sports. However, fast forward 4 years and look at the results of this team and the upset label loses its shine. Japan followed up their World Cup triumph with an Olympic silver medal and their first-ever Asian Cup. This team really is a TEAM....they have so many players who can attack and score. You can not suffer mental lapses on defense or in net against Japan or they will make you pay. In 6 games played, they have had 7 different goal scorers. Who will shine in BC Place? Perhaps put your money on Aya Miyama. The 30-year old is the captain of this team and has played in every World Cup game for The Nadeshiko since 2003. She scored the first goal vs. USA in the 2011 final and scored the first penalty kick. The last two games Japan has played at BC Place, versus Switzerland and Netherlands, Miyama scored. She seems to love the pitch in Vancouver....a fact I am sure Hope Solo is well aware of. Can she continue the magic once again?
How these two teams will play is a bit of a toss-up. They have taken very different paths to get here. The Americans played in the "Group of Death" against Australia, Sweden and Nigeria. They never really found their groove early on but were good enough to pick up 2 wins and a draw to win the group. Once they made the knockout stage though, new team! The victories over Columbia, China and Germany have shown how strong, committed and determined this team really is. They have not been challenged since their group stage draw with Sweden, and even then they didn't look that bad. Japan, on the other hand, played a relatively easy group stage beating debut nations Cameroon, Switzerland and Ecuador. The knockout stage even brought another debut nation for Japan in the Round of 16, Netherlands. Japan escaped a fast Australia team in the quarters and, as noted above, can be considered lucky to escape Edmonton on Canada Day with a victory over England. Worth noting here though is Japan are a perfect 6-0 entering this match, winning each game by a single goal. Can they leave Canada with a complete clean sheet, 7-0 record and back-to-back titles? We haven't seen a repeat winner since Germany pulled the double in 2003 and 2007. Japan colors are red and white so are Canada's....hmmm, is this a sign?
When these two nations battled in Germany for the 2011 final, it went to penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw. In London the following year, the end result was a close 2-1 scoreline. Expect a similar result here.
#TwineTime Championship Pick: #USA 2 - #JPN 1 (a.e.t.)
I hope all you #footiefans have enjoyed the action on the pitch....and on the #TwineTime blog over the past month. I know I have enjoyed covering the action and volunteering for a number of games in Edmonton. I am in Edmonton right now ready to go for the bronze medal game in a few hours. Follow my twitter account for information and, hopefully, a few pictures. If you are in Edmonton or Vancouver, I would recommend heading to Commonwealth or BC Place and taking in this action live. This is a possible once in a lifetime sporting event happening in your backyard, take it in while you can!