Five things to watch in quarterfinals
The FIFA Women's World Cup takes a decidedly dramatic turn this weekend as the tournament shifts into the knockout playoff stage. It's quite simple: win or go home.
There are four exciting quarterfinals, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, giving die-hard fans and newcomers to the World Cup scene something to cheer for.
Here are five things to watch in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals:
1. Go, go, Germany!
The Germany versus Japan quarterfinal, which will be played Saturday at the Arena Im Allerpark in Wolfsburg, probably is going to draw blockbuster TV ratings in both countries. The attention on the Germans is obvious, as they're the defending champions playing in their own land. But the Japanese feel the heat, too, with the largest non-German media throng following them around, examining every missed pass or scored goal.
The Germans have lived up to their top billing so far. The Japanese looked good until the last game in the group round, losing in lackluster fashion to England 2-0 and dropping to second place. Can the Japanese bounce back against the high-flying Germans in front of a crazy home-country crowd?
2. Operation: Stop Marta
Truly, only one female soccer player can strike real fear in this tournament: Brazilian superstar Marta. The U.S. is going to have to stop Marta and her crew of quite-talented, one-named teammates on Sunday in Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion in Dresden to advance to the semifinals. The Americans have had Brazil's number in their past four meetings, winning every game 1-0. But Brazil's last win came in the 2007 World Cup semis, destroying the U.S. 4-0 in China. So what's going to rule the day: the U.S. defense or Brazil's offense?
3. Somebody's making history ...
England just won its first group in World Cup history. France made the quarterfinals for the first time in its history. These firsts can add up to something significant come Saturday at FIFA World Cup Stadium in Leverkusen: Either France or England will reach its first semifinal. France is coming off an emotional 4-2 group round loss to Germany and will be without starting goalie Berangere Sapowicz. She drew a red card in the Germany game and is suspended. By contrast, England seems to be getting things together as the tournament wears on. Its 2-0 win over Japan was its best game of the tournament, and coach Hope Powell wants her team to continue to grow in confidence.
4. The under-the-radar game
Sweden takes on Australia on Sunday, but the Swedes have the quietest buzz of the four quarters. That's not to say the hearty Aussie fan brigade will not be raising its customary fun racket in FIFA World Cup Stadium in Augsburg. Sweden defeated the U.S. 2-1 in group play to win first place. Australia stunned Norway 2-1 to advance.
The Aussies have shown they can handle the pressure of the quarters, playing in an entertaining 3-2 loss to Brazil in 2007. They're spunky, aggressive and quite fit.
Sweden represents the traditional power, with technical strength, precise set pieces and an experienced roster. It too comes with a cadre of loyal fans, decked out in their yellow and blue gear.
5. The true colors come out
The knockout nature of this part of the World Cup brings out heightened emotions. There are no more ties. You get extra time, and sometimes, the exhilarating, stomach-turning drama of penalty kicks. This is the time when players go for it and coaches pull out all the tactical stops. It's win or go home. Nuff said.