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|The U.S. can clinch passage to the knockout stage with a victory over Colombia -- which it beat 3-0 at the 2011 World Cup -- and the right set of results.|
The opening day of the Olympic women's soccer tournament wasn't short of memorable incidents. The U.S. overcame a shaky start against France to triumph 4-2 and take control of Group G. As for Colombia, its game with North Korea was delayed for over an hour after the flag for South Korea was displayed during the scoreboard introductions of the North Korean players. Colombia would like to forget what happened during the 90 minutes, however, as the Olympic debutantes fell 2-0.
What's on the line?
The U.S. can clinch passage to the knockout stage with a victory plus the right set of results in Saturday's other games. After losing to North Korea, and given that Colombia will face France in its final group game, Las Cafeteras are basically fighting for their tournament lives, and they'll need some kind of result against the reigning Olympic champions.
Style and tactics
Both teams operate out of a 4-4-2, but at very different tempos. The U.S. uses a diamond midfield, with Lauren Cheney at the point, and either Shannon Boxx or Carli Lloyd occupying the holding role. Wide players Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe are adept at operating from both central and wide positions, the better to quickly feed the dynamic forward pairing of Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. In defense, Kelley O'Hara is the fullback most likely to venture forward, leaving veteran Christie Rampone to marshal the rest of the U.S. defense.
Against North Korea, Colombia tried to play the ball out of the back, but had a tendency to take too many touches, which proved to be an invitation to be pressed in its own half. As a consequence, the team's creativity tends to come from wide positions through the pace and trickery of Carmen Rodallega and Liana Salazar. Defensively, Colombia tends to play a high line in a bid to stay compact and invite its opponents to play long balls over the top. Given the speed the U.S. possesses, that's a tactic that manager Ricardo Rozo might want to rethink.
Players to watch
For the U.S.: Amy LePeilbet, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach
The fullback position was thought to be a weakness for the U.S., but LePeilbet delivered some critical clearances against France, and she'll be counted on to shut down Colombian winger Carmen Rodallega. Rapinoe delivered three assists against the French, and her deliveries from out wide as well as well as from set pieces will be counted on again. Wambach's heading ability is the best in the world, and given that the average height of Colombia's backline is 5-foot-6, the 5-foot-11 forward should have a field day.
For Colombia: Sandra Sepulveda, Kelis Peduzine, Carmen Rodallega
Sepulveda, the Colombian keeper, is inconsistent with her handling and looked very suspect on crosses against North Korea. Given the aerial strength of the U.S. team, that weakness will bear watching. Peduzine may only be 5-foot-9, but she is still the tallest and most athletic Colombian defender by far, and those abilities will be relied on heavily to combat the likes of Wambach. Rodallega was among Colombia's best attacking threats against North Korea, not only looking dangerous from wide positions, but showing a penchant for cutting inside and shooting from more central areas.
What we can expect?
The U.S. should win this game convincingly. Technically, tactically and physically, the U.S. is superior. Look for the Olympic champs to press Colombia in their own half and exploit their advantage on the flanks, the better to launch crosses into the box toward Wambach. If Colombia continues to play a high line defensively, Morgan should have plenty of opportunities to use her speed to get clear looks at goal. Against France, the U.S. did show a tendency to push too many players into the attack, so a player like Carli Lloyd -- assuming Shannon Boxx hasn't recovered from a hamstring injury -- will need to maintain her positional discipline.
A year ago, U.S. manager Pia Sundhage used the match against Colombia to give minutes to some reserves, and that could very well be the case this time, with Heather O'Reilly among those who could see the field. The injury to Shannon Boxx compromises this approach somewhat, and finding a way to spell Lloyd and Lauren Cheney -- who both figure to log heavy minutes later in the tournament -- will be another of Sundhage's goals.Intangibles
A win like the one over France might be considered a prime breeding ground for overconfidence, but there seems little chance of that with this U.S. team. The mentality of the U.S. is rock solid and should prove immune to any complacency. Colombia has absolutely nothing to lose, so the team should enter the match with little pressure.
One year ago at the World Cup, the U.S. beat Colombia 3-0 with little fuss. There's little reason to think that this game will be any different.