Previewing the WWC semifinals
The Women's World Cup is down to the final four and features two traditional powers (United States, Sweden) versus two emerging teams (France, Japan). The United States booked its semifinal place with a white-knuckle effort against Brazil in the quarterfinals that included the latest goal in Women's World Cup history by Abby Wambach and a penalty-shootout win. France, the Americans' semifinal opponent, also needed a penalty shootout against England to advance. Japan used a late goal of its own in extra time to take down two-time defending champion Germany while its opponent, Sweden, was untested in its win against Australia.
Here are some statistical nuggets ahead of the semifinals:
• Midfielder Megan Rapinoe's pinpoint cross from the left wing that Wambach headed home for the extra-time equalizer against Brazil was the by-product of the United States' tendency to attack from wide positions. Both the United States and France have each completed twice as many open-play crosses as Sweden and Japan combined. The United States (25.6 percent) has the best completion percentage on open-play crosses among the semifinalists. The individual players to watch for both sides who will serve these open-play crosses: Rapinoe (7 of 20, 35.0 percent) and Heather O'Reilly (6 of 13, 46.2) for the United States and France's Louisa Necib (5 of 11, 45.5).
• Does experience matter? France had only four players who had played in a World Cup before this one. The Americans have nearly five times as many World Cup appearances, from seven players with prior experience. Abby Wambach alone had 12 appearances and nine goals entering the tournament, both numbers more than the entire French roster. The United States is making its sixth semifinals appearance, more than the other three countries combined. Sweden is here for the third time and lost the 2003 final to Germany in extra time. France is in its first semifinal and its second Women's World Cup. Japan is also in its first semifinal but has qualified for every Women's World Cup.
• Japan's quick, short-passing attack has put it into the final four. Japan has completed 1,908 passes in its first four matches, nearly 500 more in the tournament than the United States, which is second with 1,436 completed passes. Japan has completed an average of 477 passes per match with a completion percentage of 76.8 percent, best of the four remaining teams.
• The United States has an 11-0-1 all-time record against France. The United States has shut out France in six of the 12 meetings and has scored two or more goals nine times. France has scored more than one goal only twice in 12 meetings.
• Sweden is the second-tallest team at the Women's World Cup at an average height of 5-foot-8, and is the tallest team remaining. Japan, which defeated the tallest team (Germany) in the quarterfinals, is the second-shortest team at this year's tournament, with an average height of 5-foot-4.