Four Red Stars look to help USWNT to victory over mighty Germany
By Gunnar Berndt
Semifinal: USA (world no. 2) vs. Germany (world no. 1)
June 30 – Kickoff: 6 p.m. CT
Red Stars: Julie Johnston (DEF), Lori Chalupny (MID-DEF), Shannon Boxx (MID), Christen Press (FWD) – all USA
It’s getting real for the U.S. Women on Tuesday, as their semifinal matchup is a battle of the two top-ranked sides in the world, Germany having held first place in the FIFA rankings for the past six months. Led by Red Stars center back sensation Julie Johnston, the Americans turned it up a notch and earned their fourth consecutive shutout in the 1-0 quarterfinal win over China, and they will need to be at their best if they hope to advance to the final for a shot at the coveted trophy that has eluded them since 1999.
While the Germans crushed Ivory Coast 10-0 in their tournament opener and dismantled fellow title favorites Sweden 4-1 in the round of 16, they showed they are vulnerable in the 1-1 draw with Norway at the group stage and in their recent win in penalty kicks over mighty France. The squad of Head Coach Silvia Neid, who was part of the coaching staff when Germany won the 2003 World Cup and led them to a 2007 repeat, features some of the greatest talent on the planet across the field, Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag standing out with six and five goals scored, respectively.
Johnston and company will be charged with containing an opposition offense that not only features Sasic and Mittag, but two more players with a pair of tallies each. To provide context, the USWNT’s Carli Llloyd and Megan Rapinoe are the team’s leading scorers with two goals apiece, which touches on perhaps the greatest concern of fans and pundits back home – a perceived lack of American attacking vigor. Chicago star striker Christen Press could help change that perception, though it appears Head Coach Jill Ellis has settled on utilizing the 26-year-old primarily to provide a spark off the bench.
Two more Red Stars standouts, defender-midfielder Lori Chalupny and midfield legend Shannon Boxx, look to add to their minutes logged thus far, as both are once again expected to feature on the gameday roster for the Red, White and Blue.
Semifinal: Japan (world no. 4) vs. England (world no. 6)
July 1 – Kickoff: 6 p.m. CT
There’s no telling who will emerge victorious from this clash of two sides who both know how to get a result when it matters.
Heavily favored to win its group, defending champions Japan edged out one-goal victories against each of its opening three opponents, including an Ecuador side that had previously been brutalized 6-0 by Cameroon and 10-1 by Switzerland. To be fair, Head Coach Norio Sasaki rested a number of his starters in the meeting with the South American minnows, and his side continued its run of efficiency in the knockout rounds, bagging 2-1 and 1-0 wins over up-and-comers Netherlands and Australia, respectively. The Japanese defense has been key thus far in the tournament, allowing just two goals in five matches.
Meanwhile, England has evolved from a dark horse to a legitimate title contender, having registered four straight 2-1 victories since a 1-0 defeat to France in the group opener. Head Coach Mark Sampson’s side has thrived since the 32-year-old took over in 2013, culminating with a quarterfinal win over Canada that saw the Three Lionesses ruthlessly pounce on their chances and put on an impressive defensive display in the second half to hold on to their one-goal advantage. England is led by midfielder Karen Carney and defenders Lucy Bronze and Laura Bassett, Carney and Bronze each having scored a pair of goals.
With neither Japan nor their European counterparts having won a game by more than a one-goal margin over the course of the tournament, fans should brace themselves for a tightly contested match that may well be decided in overtime or on penalty kicks.