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WWC Fan Diary: Turning frowns upside down

How do you sum up an experience like that? The Commonwealth stadium in Edmonton seared underneath the Alberta sun as those of us who had either made the relatively arduous journey back from Moncton, or had simply stayed in Edmonton, attempted to swallow our nerves ahead of the Matildas' quarter final against Japan.

The day began with the now usual ritual of seeing off the team bus, downing as many non-stadium priced beers as possible before getting on a stadium bound train. Something, however, was different. There was an impending sense of anticipation, bordering on worry, that could be sensed throughout the morning.


This was Japan, the defending champions, our great Asian nemesis and the fourth top ten side that we've had to take on this tournament. After some strong encouragement to buy beer from a local Mounty who was empathetic to one young vender’s difficulty selling any (bloody police intimidation) we headed to our seats in conditions all too familiar to those of us who had braved numerous Sunday afternoon kick-offs in the December heat at Edensor Park or Lakeside Stadium.

In all honesty, we were outplayed. Each attack, tackle and headed clearance was followed by a sip more of nerves than relief. Still, when the Japanese hammer blow came in the second half it felt just as unexpected and just as gutting. I think there was a part of all of us that thought our girls had one more bit of magic left in them. Alas.....

Frowns permeated from our faces for the train back into town before smiles took over at the thought of the celebrations and we certainly realised all that we had to celebrate. The final evening managed to include all those who had taken part in this incredible journey and as early evening slowly faded into severely over ordering pizza at 2am, the Matilda's 2015 World Cup adventure came to a close.

That also meant the end of my journey following the team and reporting back to all of you kind or bored enough to read these fan diary entries. It's been a close bet for the most amazing month of my life following our national team during a World Cup from one side of North America to another and back again, against Yanks, Nigerians, Swedes, Brazilians and Japanese, it's been remarkable.

As I have never been in any position to give anyone a shout out in any sort of public manner I'll hand out a few now. Obviously to the good people at The Football Sack for letting me type out my experiences, to those of you who have at any point glanced over any of these ramblings, to the local Canadians and internationals I met along the way who were such great fun, to the family, friends and fans of the team I went through the joy, anger, tipsiness and sadness with; Alex, Chris, BT, Gary, Roger, Jordan, Lachie, Ann, Cheryl, Emily, Shell, Rob and, of course, Steph, T and all our Matildas who made pride the overriding feeling of the month. Thank you for everything you did out there on and off those pitches.

Anyway, I'm heading back across the continent on a pair of 767's to New York City.

Until France 2019...
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WWC Semi-Final: Japan v England

Japan has just barely advanced to the World Cup final after a stunning late own goal put England behind with little time to make up the deficit.

What Happened


Japan is through to its second consecutive World Cup final after late drama broke England hearts.

With the score level at 1-1, the game seem destined for extra time when Laura Bassett’s late own goal put Japan through.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/267745/tfs/wwc/wwc_semisJPNENG_600.png

Japan, in its preferred 4-4-2, was named unchanged for the third match in a row.

England opted for a 4-3-3, with the two wide forwards dropping back into a midfield five to help negate the threat of the Japanese playmakers.

The opening quarter was a tense but intriguing affair, with the Japanese struggling to get their passing game going and England offering danger from aerial balls.

Japan traded the first blow just after the half hour mark, after Rafferty got the wrong side of Ariyoshi and brought the Japanese fullback down. It was a clear foul by Rafferty, but the initial contact was clearly outside the box. Miyama converted after an amusingly long stuttering run, and Japan were 1-0 to the good.

However, England soon leveled after benefiting from a dubiously awarded penalty themselves. Steph Houghton was first to a loose ball in the box and went down under Ogimi’s challenge. It was a soft penalty to concede – the England captain went down easily. Fara Williams coolly dispatched the spot-kick with honours well and truly even at half time.

The second half became an increasingly nervous and tentative affair. England dropped deep to deny space for Japan, who uncharacteristically struggled to impose themselves on the game.

Toni Duggan came closest for England after her opportunistic half volley clipped the top of the crossbar.

England, having been so solid throughout the ninety minutes, was given an almighty heartbreak in injury time. Japan broke down the right with seconds remaining and Kawasumi’s cross was diverted into her own net by Laura Bassett, with a swarm of Japanese players closing in behind her.

It was a cruel blow for Bassett and the English, who got their tactics spot on again and seemed certain to take the game to extra time.

The reigning champions march on to play USA in the final.



Standout Performances

The England ladies were all excellent in not allowing the Japanese to excel. Once again, Steph Houghton was immense at the back, and credit to her “clever” play in winning the penalty; a leader who set the example all tournament for the Lionesses, apart from tiny slither of cheating here.

It’s hard to second guess Mark Sampson, but one would expect Toni Duggan has now nailed down a spot in the Welshman’s best 11 in whatever fashion that might be. She was England’s most dangerous player on the day, full of guile and forcing her teams best scoring opportunities with her pace and energy, on a day where the England forwards were to prey upon 50/50 balls.

Talking Points

Controversial penalty decisions appear to now be mundane discussion after the drama of Bassett’s own goal, but they remain the biggest talking points from a match that struggled to come to life. Replays suggest that the referee got both decisions wrong, but fortunately things evened themselves out on this front.

What Next

Japan will head to Vancouver for the final of this wonderful tournament where it will play the United States in a 2011 final rematch. Four years ago it took the lottery of a penalty shootout to find the Japanese as champions, and the tournament’s two best sides could very well end up in the same situation this time around.

The English will take on Germany in the third-place playoff where they will try and reverse the horrid misfortune of the semi-final and take third place back to the Old Country. It’ll be tough for the English to lift after such a shattering defeat, but lift they must as they look to capitalise on the extraordinary work of Mark Sampson and co in Canada.

Needs Work                          

Once again the Japanese left it to the very last minute to find a winner in this game, and that winner ended up coming from a white shirt and not a blue one. They’ll need to arrest their habit of leaving it until the terminus of the match if they want to get past the United States.

Furthermore, England’s ultra-attacking passage midway through the second half had Japan completely rattled. It’s the most attacking football they’ve been up against all tournament and the defence was unable to cope, only being saved by some acrobatic goalkeeping and the cross bar.

Goal of the Match

Laura Bassett, if you ever read this, we’re sorry. Your mind-numbingly devastating own goal takes this award because of the circumstances in which it arrived. A minute or so remaining in a World Cup semi-final and teams locked at one-all, and then you miss your clearance and put it past your own keeper. It was theatrical brilliance, and it had the world on the edge of its collective seat. Seeing your emotional response afterwards broke its collective heart. Again, we’re sorry.

Miss of the Match

Jill Scott hit the miss of the day quite accidentally when she crossed from a fairly shallow position as the English pushed forward. The ball entered orbit and on coming down the crowd took a gasp as it edged closer and closer to the Japanese goal. Defenders and attackers mingled just in front of the goal waiting for it to come down, but they needn’t have been there as the ball bounced on to the cross bar and out. It would have been a ridiculous albeit lucky goal, but it didn’t go in and facilitated one of the most spectacular finishes 12 minutes later.
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England: Success salvaged through struggle

"There’s lots of things to consider with squad selection. First it’s having that tactical flexibility and balance of being able to play different ways. We’ve got lots of players who can play different positions and different roles, so if we need to play a different way for a specific match we feel we’ve got a group who can do that.” - Mark Sampson

If you asked every manager of the 24 nations competing at the Women’s World Cup, chances are almost all of them will attribute some kind of underlying stability within their squad to their success thus far.

Whether it be consistency in team selection, tactical approach or familiar in-game management patterns, a settled, cut-and-dry modus operandi has always been hailed as a quintessential aspect of any tournament winning-side.


It’s a concept that has been fetishized in the modern era. Although admittedly not as severe at an international level, pressure on managers to succeed has been ramped up a hundred-fold which has lent a greater emphasis on the stable squad and subsequently fostered an era of managerial short-termism.

The traditional view holds that stability, both on and off the field, is garnered as the platform which all success is built. Mark Sampson is one who flies in the face of such conventional managerial wisdom.

A former coach under Roberto Martinez’ Swansea, the 32-year-old has barely got his foot through the door and his semi-bewildering approach at the Women’s World Cup has earned him reputation as a seasoned tinkerman.

The Welshman used his full complement of squad players before the final whistle of England’s last Group F date with Colombia, freely switching between their favoured 4-3-3, a more pragmatic 4-1-4-1, and variations of the 4-4-2 formation.

It’s a shadow of the side that held a regimented 4-2-3-1 formation under Hope Powell for the better part of a decade. The retirement of Kelly Smith, who for so long spearheaded the team up front under Powell, signalled the end of the “star player”. Sampson’s England were to now prioritize collective endeavour over fleeting individual stardust.

His leadership at the tournament has been brave, daring, and demonstrative of complete trust between player and manager but there was a stage where it looked as if Sampson had experimented too far. Perhaps his ultra-conservative approach against France had a lasting effect on his team, who up until Fran Kirby poked home England’s first tournament goal with twenty minutes remaining against Mexico, had looked disjointed and struggled for any kind of fluency or cohesion.

And this theme has continued for the most part. England have largely failed to assert themselves in games, perhaps evidence of a side still suffering from a mental block against the powerhouses of women’s football, something that Mark Sampson hinted at himself.

“Whatever we face in the latter stages, we know we have something to throw back," said the Welshman prior to facing Norway in the Round of 16.

This epitomizes Sampson’s confident, pragmatic style, perhaps even a shade or two away from being too polite – something that certainly rubbed off in his team’s display against France.

Nevertheless, it’s a great story for the young manager and England whose philosophy remains one of the most intriguing subplots of the tournament.

Not everyone is buying into Sampson’s thinking however despite England’s history-making tournament. England have failed to aesthetically impress and have struggled to maintain a consistent standard of performance.

You had to wonder whether the constant changes in personnel and formation had exposed England. Perhaps his troops were far too submissive in their opening encounter against France. They were certainly guilty of losing concentration against Mexico and Colombia which may have been more costly against superior outfits. England were outplayed against Norway for the first half and conceded not long after half time but managed to grind a path to victory.

Legitimate concerns aside, England have got the results despite struggling with their best performance arriving against Canada in the quarter final. The constant chopping and changing of the squad has been carefully conceived and kept everyone as fresh and hungry as desired.

This is an achievement that shouldn’t be understated: it’s often that the harmony and cohesion of a squad is irreparably damaged due to overzealous rotation.

There has been nothing erratic about Sampson’s strategy. It speaks volumes about the decreasing importance of the stable squad and the often overlooked importance of emotional balance. England have shown that if there is a dedicated group of  players willing to commit themselves into a philosophy, momentum will slowly grow as the results are ground out.

You begin to wonder whether managers and directors at national level are so obsessed with the idea of cultivating the identity of a team that they have ignored the fundamental principles of a successful squad. As Sampson’s reign over the national team goes on, it will be interesting to see how and if the image of the team evolves and whether he can really continue to take his squad forward on a flexible game to game basis.


The English FA has invested heavily in women’s football over the past decade yet the pressure at the tournament for England has been relatively low-key. Perhaps a key factor here is the inadvertent absence of media scrutiny which has allowed Sampson full control over his camp. England’s emphasis on a combative, reactive style of football has lessened the pressure on the team as a whole and allowed the manager’s in-game leadership to come to the fore.

England have defied common conceptions about successful tournament sides and in doing so have offered a blueprint for other middle-to-top-tier nations to consider when the next major tournament comes around.

On Thursday morning (Australia time), they will play the reigning champions Japan in the semi-final. The odds are heavily stacked against Sampson’s side but would you really write them off again?

Regardless of the result, the Three Lionesses will have made a sizable impact on the world of women’s football in more ways than one.
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WWC Semi-Final: United States vs Germany

The USA are now into their second Women’s World Cup final in a row after a game with two penalties saw the Americans stand triumphant as the eventual winners. Luke Robbs and Isaac McIntyre dissect the action.

What Happened

Germany and the United States were both given a chance to convert penalties after calls in the box but a failure to put it into the back of the net by Celia Sasic almost sealed the game against Germany with American captain Carli Lloyd taking her chance less than ten minutes later to claim the lead for the United States.

Lloyd also set up Kelly O’Hara for the goal that sealed the match with just over five minutes to go but it was a tale of two halves that proved that both sides deserve to be so highly ranked in the international standings.


The first half was total domination by the USA with any chances that the Germans created going to waste and Nadine Angerer called to defend against Lloyd and strike partner Alex Morgan for much of the 45 minutes. Any attack that the Germans were able to put together were quickly closed down by the American defence and the half time score remained 0-0.

The half time start saw Anja Mittag force a chance on Hope Solo’s goal with a header that went just wide. Germany’s penalty chance came off the back of USA defender Julie Johnston pulling Alexandra Popp down in the box which led to Sasic’s heartbreaking miss, just wide of the left post.

Lloyd’s penalty came soon after with Morgan being fouled by Annike Krahn in Germany’s box, and although the top-ranked Germans fought back valiantly in the dying moments of the game, O’Hara’s goal to double the lead put the game out of reach and saw Silvia Neid’s side fall to a semi-final defeat – not quite the swan song that Neid had hoped for in her final Women’s World Cup campaign.



Stand Out Performances

With both teams massive forces in the women’s football scene, and with deadly forwards that make teams pay for single mistakes, Nadine Angerer and Hope Solo were always going to be stand-out players in the match. Called on early and often with the United States’ attack breaking down Germany’s defence in the opening stages of the match, Angerer kept the score line level

Alex Morgan was an ever looming presence in front of goals for the United States and with 55% possession in the first half the American side were on the constant offensive, funneling their players through Morgan who was only denied by the skill of Angerer in her chances on goals. A defining point of the first half was Morgan’s one on one chance early in the half but Germany’s captain rose to the occasion, denying the United States striker.

Captain Carli Lloyd also shone as a pivoting midfielder/striker next to Alex Morgan, switching the formation whether America were on the offensive or not and her vital converted penalty in the 67th minute was crucial to the United States in the match. Deservedly, Lloyd was given the Player of the Match award for her penalty goal and her assist for the second of the match.

At the opposite end of the pitch, Celia Sasic proved why she is the leading goal scorer in the competition so far, taking over Alex Morgan’s role in the second half as the striker that was everywhere across the pitch. Her missed penalty though just before the 60th minute may have been the defining factor in the match that sunk Germany.

Talking Points

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, clashes of the tournament is now over and United States has proven that they deserve to be in the final of the competition.

Germany once again showed their second half talents in the match with switch reminiscent of their quarter final against France – the French side dominated for 45 minutes but couldn’t press their advantage and when the two-time European champions took to the field again they took control over France, owning the entire field with their presence.

What if Celia Sasic had buried the penalty just before the 60th minute and put Germany up by a goal with just over half an hour to play? If the ball hadn’t shot wide to the left there may have been a clear cut winner in the match with Germany already taking over the match in terms of veracity and attack and to put the United States down a goal may have put them over the top in terms of confidence.

With the incorrect penalty call going the way of the United States only seven minutes later and Carli Lloyd not making the same mistake, Germany could have been level in the match instead of trailing by one from Lloyd’s converted penalty, an advantage that America used as a base to double their goal lead and clinch the match.

What It Means

In the semi-finals the results of the games are rather simple – Germany goes home disappointed after falling to defeat while the United States now takes on either England or Japan in the final. There are no second chances or redeeming moments for Germany in the final matches of the Women’s World Cup – their chance is now gone with four years waiting in between before they can challenge at this level in the tournament again. Next time it won’t be under the watchful gaze of Silvia Neid. All eyes now turn to the second massive clash with England battling against the current World Champions Japan in the decider on who will fight to lift the trophy in the Women’s World Cup Grand Final.

What Next

The United States now have to play the waiting game to find out who their opponent will be in the final with the winner of Japan vs England scheduled to face the Americans on Monday morning. Germany will face the loser of the same fixture in the third place play-off on Sunday morning.

Needs Work

America finally put in the performance that everybody had been waiting for and there were very few holes in their game. They thoroughly controlled the vast majority of the match and allowed the German midfield little time on the ball. Their defensive work was also impressive with their high-tempo pressing adding to the frustration of the Germans. Being nit-picky, they probably had enough chances in the opening 45 minutes to have a lead at the break. It made little difference in the end though.

Germany on the other hand – somehow – despite all their talent looked completely out of their depth. The third place play-off will be no walk in the park and they need to find some new tactics or make a personnel change that allows them to have greater influence in the middle third.

Goal of the Match

The second goal for the US was great to watch and great teamwork. Smart lead up play by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan allowed Carli Lloyd to run towards the German by-line and flick the ball across the face of goal for O’Hara to seal the victory on the volley.

Miss of the Match

No prize for guessing this one, Sasic’s penalty miss was a howler. She was by no means playing well and struggling to get into the game but when you win a dot-shot you have to give the ball to the Golden Boot leader. While Hope Solo is intimidating in goal there is no reason for a player of Sasic’s quality to miss. Take nothing away from the 27-year-old though as she’s had a marvellous tournament so far.
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NPL WA Round 12 Wrap

Round 12 of the WA NPL was one of the most predictable rounds the league will see in some time.

In a turn of events that surprised no one, the top four teams Bayswater, Floreat, Perth and Inglewood, all recorded wins, whilst the bottom four, Armadale, Perth Glory, Subiaco and ECU Joondalup all suffered defeats. In the only real surprise of the week Balcatta put six past a hapless Stirling Lions but otherwise it was par for the course.


Subiaco 1 (White 71’ PEN)
Bayswater City 2 (Marulanda 66’, 86’)
Rosalie Park

Bayswater bounced back from their FFA Cup exit to beat Subiaco 2-1 in a close encounter at Rosalie Park. Determined to make up for their loss to Sorrento last week, the visitors dominated the first half but were unable to make it count on the scoreboard. Danny Heagney had two great chances, the first a lob which fell wide of the mark, the second a low shot which was well-saved by Ryan Montgomery. Danny Dixon also came close twice having a shot cleared off the line before hitting the post shortly after. Gustavo Giron Marulanda finally broke the deadlock when he poked home from close range only for Subiaco to respond through Kevin White’s penalty. However, with time running out, Marulanda popped up at the back post to convert Todd Howarth’s cross to secure all three points for Bayswater.

ECU Joondalup 1 (Amphlett 82’)
Perth SC 2 (Pritchard 24’, Vittiglia 90’)
ECU Joondalup Football Stadium

A late winner from Reece Vittiglia ensured Perth followed up their FFA Cup win last weekend with victory over ECU Joondalup. Perth started strongly and only the actions of ECU custodian Jamie Serra stopped Mark Pritchard from opening the scoring but the latter came up trumps a few minutes later to give the hosts the lead. The away side improved after the break, Andy Higgins coming closest with a long shot which forced Francis Soale into a good save. Serra continued to keep Perth at bay, before Tommy Amphlett stabbed home to equalize for ECU. However there was to be one final twist as Vittiglia netted in the last minute of regulation time to send Joondalup home with nothing.

Perth Glory 1 (McDougall 82’)
Floreat Athena 4 (Arnold 12’, McMahon 52’ PEN, 60’, Stynes 88’)
Inglewood Stadium

After consecutive losses Floreat returned to the winner’s circle with a comfortable victory over lowly Perth Glory. The hosts started strongly and came close through Gian Albano and Jacob Collard early only for Athena debutant Phil Arnold to convert from a corner. The goal shifted momentum and only the efforts of goalkeeper Jordan Franken kept the Glory from going further behind at the break. Floreat didn’t need to wait long after the restart to double their advantage when Steve Burton won a penalty and captain Lewis McMahon slotted home. The visitors continued to press and McMahon grabbed his second after Perth failed to clear their lines. Glory youngster Michael McDougall scored a late consolation but Jon Stynes restored the three-goal buffer late when his volley hit the bar and deemed to have crossed the line.

Balcatta 6 (Catarcione 14’, Quinn 17’, 59’, Sammut 30’, Nazary 60’, Teece 86’)
Stirling Lions 0
Grindleford Reserve

Balcatta eased to victory with a 6-0 thrashing of a shell-shocked Stirling Lions outfit. Early strikes from Gustavo Catarcione and Patrick Quinn set Balcatta on their way and they were given another boost when Stirling ‘keeper Lance Alavakis was sent off after catching Catarcione outside the box. The Lions’ day went from bad to worse when James Sammut dispatched the resultant free kick to give the home side a three-goal buffer at half time. Moses Kalua twice came close to hauling Stirling back into the game after the break before Quinn added his second after a nice turn and placed shot. Zelfy Nazary added a fifth for Balcatta before the visitors’ captain Brodie Martin was given a red card late in the game. Cameron Teece completed the scoring when he slid home followed by more red cards to Balcatta’s Jordan Colasante and Stirling’s Michael Pugliese after a crude challenge in Stirling’s penalty box. Blamo Quaqua fired over from the resultant penalty but the damage was already done.

Cockburn City 1 (Patterson 5’)
Inglewood United 2 (Sesay 62’, Micevski 73’)
Dalmatinac Park

Inglewood scored a quickfire double to edge Cockburn City away to record their fifth win in a row. The hosts were quickest out of the gates in the first half and opened the scoring after just five minutes thanks to Rory Patterson’s delicate lob. Inglewood looked for an equalizer but were unable to beat City goalkeeper Curtis Aspden whilst the visitors’ own ‘keeper Aleks Vrteski was also kept busy. United finally found a breakthrough when David Sesay stabbed home at the back post following Jason Colli’s cross before they took the lead shortly after through David Micevski’s bullet finish. The hosts were unable to find a way back, and Inglewood rode out the final minutes to take the chocolates.

Sorrento 2 (McDonald 51’, 56’)
Armadale 1 (Hodgson 20’ PEN)
Percy Doyle Reserve

Sorrento had their skipper Steve McDonald to thank after his two second-half goals helped them to a come-from-behind win over Armadale. Danny Hodgson gave the visitors the lead from the spot on the 20 minute mark after the referee deemed Jack Eades handled the ball in the box. After a poor first half, Sorrento emerged strongly after half time and McDonald rose highest to head home a Tom Boss cross just five minutes after the restart. The Gulls captain scored his second in almost identical circumstances soon after, this time outjumping his man at a corner to give Sorrento the lead. Armadale pressed, looking for an equaliser, but they found James Morgan hard to beat in goals. Despite the visitors’ late pressure, Sorrento were able to hold on to secure a vital win.

Round 13 Fixtures
Perth SC vs Inglewood United
Floreat Athena vs Cockburn City
Bayswater City vs ECU Joondalup
Perth Glory vs Armadale
Stirling Lions vs Sorrento
Subiaco vs Balcatta
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WWC Semi-Final: England

England have been something of an enigma in this tournament and face an increasingly dangerous Japanese outfit in the semi-final.

The story so far

England finished runners up in Group F after their opening loss to France was salvaged by 2-1 wins against Mexico and Colombia.

The Three Lionesses struggled for consistency and looked destined for a round of 16 exit against Norway when two late goals saved the day for Mark Sampson’s team.


Two quickfire strikes were enough to topple hosts Canada in the quarter final, England holding on for their fourth 2-1 win of the tournament to progress to the final four.

They are just the third English side of both sexes to make the semi-finals of a World Cup in the nation's history.

They’ll beat Japan because…

England are gathering momentum and have improved on each performance at the tournament so far. They demonstrated against Canada that they can control the game in key areas and the way Canada rarely threatened them in the 2nd half is a huge boost to England’s defensive composure and merit.

It will be interesting to see if the approach will be similar to the opening encounter against France. Mark Sampson will have learnt lessons from that game and know that his side need to find ways to hurt the Japanese rearguard if they have any chance to reach the final.

Luckily for England, they may have a few trump cards to play yet. Mark Sampson’s constant tinkering means the element of unpredictability is on their side and with the likes of Lianne Sanderson yet to make an impact in the tournament, Japan will have to be wary.

England are a combative, battling team and if they can turn the game into a fistfight they might have enough brute force to get over the line. This is not to say they aren’t capable of turning it on and matching Japan but the chances of outplaying them on the day are slim.  Norio Sasaki’s team are so effective in swarming around their own defensive half and shutting down time and space for opposition that England must decide which moments to press forward, be very quick on the transition and attack with conviction.

Perhaps the best route to goal for England will be through set pieces. They’ve looked dangerous from every set-piece at the tournament so far though it’s yet to have paid dividends. Whether it’s a high, lofted ball to the back post from Fara Williams or a more precise, teasing whipped cross from Alex Greenwood, England have the tall timber to cause problems in the Japanese box – especially against a team who have played all three goalkeepers at the tournament.

They’ll be knocked out by Japan because…

Japan are a well-oiled machine and have looked a class above every opponent they’ve come across. Some even hold that they haven’t even played to their best yet which is a dangerous proposition for England.

Norio Sasaki’s girls are by all accounts the best team at the tournament and hold the technical advantage over England as France did in their opening group game. On that day, England were comprehensively outplayed and would not have scored if they had hours to do so. Japan are an even better team than that France side and their dominance should eventually tell.

Japan should find a way past Karen Bardsley inside 90 minutes and it’s hard to see England breaking down such a phenomenally organised and disciplined side to force a reply.

Will they win the World Cup?

England have been written off at every stage so it’s hard to simply dismiss their chances here, even if the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of the Japanese. However, this might be one game too far for the Lionesses.

Best moment of the tournament so far

When the final whistle was blown against Canada. England made history, becoming just the third national side to progress to the semi-final of a World Cup, joining some of the most illustrious names in English football. A landmark moment for the women’s game in England.

Key player

In a side that is constantly changing, Fara Williams has been one of the few constants. Williams is the spine of the side and ostensibly their most recognisable “star” player in a team that prioritizes collective endeavour rather than individual match-winners. Her delivery from set-pieces will be crucial to her side’s chances, as will her positional discipline.

Injuries / suspensions

Karen Bardsley’s eye took a battering last week but she’s recovered and available for England.

Prediction

England will go toe-to-toe with them for a period but won’t prevent Japan from making it two World Cup final appearances in a row.

Japan to win 2-0.
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WWC Semi-Final: Japan

Japan has controlled every opposition team served up to them in Canada and that won’t change in the semi-final against England, so sit back and let The Football Sack take you through Asia’s last remaining side.

The story so far

It’s been a faultless tournament so far for Japan, conceding only two goals and winning each encounter on the journey to the semi-finals. Some will argue however that the tournament schedule has been rather lenient on the reigning champions, placing them in a group with three Cup debutants, and then playing a fourth in the Round of 16. The toughest challenge was against the high-flying Australians whom they managed to overcome with a winning goal as the game took its final breaths.


They’ve been solid if not spectacular in coming this far but the method is working so it’s hardly likely to change. While they haven’t been the most enthralling team to watch in Canada they are comfortable knowing their game plan is good enough to grind out any team unfortunate enough to come up against them.

They’ll beat England because…

Japan have England’s measure in a number of areas on the football pitch but the ability they possess to control the tempo of the game will be of particular importance against an English side that wasn’t expected to make it this far. Much like the quarter-final clash against the Matildas, expect the Japanese to sit on possession in the centre of the pitch with a deep defence. This will force the English into long shots, the likes of which are far less likely to find the back of the net. Japan has stripped its game back to its barest form for the World Cup so don’t expect them to start complicating things at this point.

They’ll be knocked out by England because…

The English have shown that their explosive passages of play are a threat to any team in the world, just ask the Canadians about the first 15 minutes of the quarter final. If they can get into this kind of groove at some stage against the Japanese England will go a long way to making their first ever World Cup final appearance. Japan haven’t really been under sustained pressure at any stage in this tournament - such is their ability to control the tempo of the game - so England will need to attack the Japanese regularly to give themselves a chance. If they can do that, Japan might just crack.

Will they win the World Cup?

Yes. I’m putting it out there: Japan will win the World Cup. I, like many others following this team, have criticised them for lacking a certain spark but it’s clear the Japanese vision is to simply control the game so much that it strangles the life out of their opposition. It’s working extraordinarily well and the English won’t stand a chance against it. When they line up against the United States or Germany in the Final it’ll still be good enough. This is a better team than the one that sat on top of the world four years ago and none of the remaining squads are as comfortable with their games as Japan’s is.

Best moment of the tournament so far?

Mana Iwabuchi’s face after scoring the winner against Australia was a photographer’s dream. She wore a smile from ear to ear as she was mobbed by her hysterical team mates. Just moments earlier she had found herself in the right spot at the right time to tap in the easiest of goals in a scramble as the game trundled towards extra-time. From the moment the ball left her boot to when her teammates caught up to her and piled on it was easy to understand why ours is known as the beautiful game.

Key player

The smiling Iwabuchi was brilliant in the twenty minutes she played against Australia in the quarter-final. Her pace and quick feet were unmatched by the tired Australians and if Japan’s coach Norio Sasaki can resist the urge to start her and again bring her on late against the English, there’s no reason why she won’t have the same effect. Scoring the winner was an added bonus to go with the game-breaking lift she gave her side.

Injuries/Suspensions

Nothing new in either capacity.

Prediction

England will try and attack Japan early but the Japanese will absorb it with ease. Japan will then score two second-half goals and walk into the final full of confidence. Homare Sawa and Mana Iwabuchi to score in Japan’s 2-0 win.
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WWC Semi-Final: United States of America

Jill Ellis was given a simple mandate when she took over as the United States Head Coach, win the World Cup. Will she will be sipping champagne or stuck in the unemployment cue? Let's find out.

The story so far

The United States are the sole survivor left from the Group of Death. While the Americans finished top of the group they failed to live up to much of the pre-tournament hype that had them pegged as one of the genuine favourites to take out the title. A 3-1 victory against Australia, a 0-0 draw with Sweden and far from convincing 1-0 win over a Nigerian outfit which finished with ten players proved to be enough for Team USA to book a Round of 16 berth.

The number two ranked nation met Columbia in their first knockout match with the red white and blue dispatching the brave and tenacious South Americans 2-0 in Edmonton. It was an improved performance from Team USA who never really looked like failing after they took the ascendency in the match thanks once again to their opponents losing a player.


Tournament surprise packet China awaited the USA in the quarter finals and accordingly the former two-time World Cup winners improved their performance despite only one moment of pure brilliance separating the two teams. Centre-back Julie Johnson pumped a perfectly weighted long ball into the danger area to be expertly finished with the head of Carli Lloyd in what is sure to be one of the contenders for goal of the tournament. The 1-0 victory over a gutsy Steel Roses now sees the Americans face off in dream match against the nation ranked number one in the world, Germany

They’ll beat Germany because…

They’ve improved so far with every match so it's reasonable to assume they will once against find another gear against Germany. The seasoned performers of Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Amy Rodriguez have been instrumental in their victories so far and will once again be called upon to marshal the team around the park with their maturity and experience helping the team peak at the right time.  

The other factor to consider is that realistically Germany are lucky to even be in the semi-final. For a team that’s never been ranked lower than third in the world the Germans were belted around the park in their quarter final match against France. Germany looked confused and irritated by the constant pressure and willingness to attack displayed by The Blues and if it wasn’t for a bogus penalty decision Silvia Neid and her troops would already be at home. Ultimately it came down to penalties in the quarter final between the two Europeans squads and the legs of the Germans may well still be quite heavy after the longer run.

They’ll be knocked-out by Germany because…

Because since the turn of the century Germany has been the benchmark for women’s football and they’ll be too much for the aging USA to handle. Germany claimed both the 2003 and 2007 titles and were beaten by eventual 2011 winners Japan in the quarter finals last time around. They also possess possibly the world’s most dangerous striking duo in Alexandra Popp and Celia Sasic who have scored a combined 91 goals in just over 160 appearances. While the US have been playing smart and controlled football, at times they’ve looked vulnerable when teams have been quick to get in their face and the Germans have all the tools required to exploit that weakness.

Will they win the World Cup?

Short answer, yes with an ‘if’. Long answer, no with a ‘but’. They absolutely can win the World Cup, it’s impossible to deny their quality with the likes of Wombach and Sydey Leroux. On the other hand they haven’t stamped their authority on any match in the tournament so far. They’re getting better, just not sure it’s fast enough.

Best moment of the tournament so far

Their performance against China was encouraging. The Americans created a lot of chances against the Chinese squad and dictated much of the contest without looking completely in control of the match. Their 1-0 win should have been by a greater margin but it’s still a win and it was obvious that it meant a lot to the players to be within one match of the final. There is a lot of pressure on Jill Ellis and her players to win it all and if they do, that will be the best moment for the US.

Key Player

Julie Johnson will be pivotal for the Americans if they want to make it to the final. The 23-year-old has been playing exceptionally well and must be in line to be considered as one of the tournament all-stars. Despite having only appeared for the national team 17 times the Chicago Red Stars defender has so far been commanding in her defensive duties and has saved the Americans on countless occasions. Apparently as a kid the World Cup debutant cried every time she fell over on field, this time around though she may be the one dishing out the tears.

Injuries/suspensions

The Americans will gladly welcome back veteran centre midfield pairing Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday after they had to miss the quarter final due to suspension. There are no current injuries or suspensions headaches for Ellis and the Americans may well name an unchanged line-up against German.

Predication  

Very, very difficult to predict as both teams have more than enough firepower to win the match. But the tip goes to Germany, 1-0 in regular time. Alexandra Popp to pop in the winner.
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WWC Semi-Final: Germany

Germany upset a lot of neutrals when they knocked out France in the quarter final but they won’t care. Still driven to avenge their shock loss to Japan in 2011, the USA now stand between them and a potential rematch.

The story so far

A massive goal difference from their 10-0 thrashing of the Ivory Coast saw Germany take the top of Group B after wins over Thailand and Côte d'Ivoire and a close draw over Norway and their first knock-out challenge of the tournament came in the form of Sweden, who qualified through in third place from Group D.


The Round of 16 battle saw Germany come out strong once more, taking a 4-1 victory over the Swedish side to book a spot in the Quarter Finals. Although the victory came across strong, Germany had troubles finding the back of the net at the start of the match before four goals showed that the concerns had no legs and the two-time champions’ eyes now look towards the final three matches.

Their most recent clash brought them face to face with European rivals France in a tight battle that ended in nail-biting penalties with Germany standing triumphant after five converted penalties beat the four that France were able to deliver.

They’ll beat the United States because…

Germany can go all the way. United States are the strongest side that they’ve faced in the competition so far but Germany’s lethal scoring has proven to be dangerous to every opponent that they’ve faced yet while their defence on set pieces have been efficient and clinical. The goals that the United States have scored have been off crosses and corners, seeing players heading balls home to take the lead, and Germany have already proved that they can stop those chances dead – something that is going to be crucial in this massive semi-final clash.

They’ll get knocked out by the United States because…

United States are arguably the best women’s international team in the world, rivalled only by Japan and Germany. If Germany fail to turn up with the full force of their deadly possession then United States are going to make fools of them and go to the final off the back of a Germany defeat.

The United States won both the 1991 and the 1999 World Cups but Germany have been stronger more recently. The problem for Germany could be that United States have shown in this tournament that they are ready to go all the way in the tournament in their bid to take back a World Cup title and maintain their relevance on top of the international standings. Germany will have everything to lose against the United States, and both sides are ready to bring their top game for the match.

Will they win the World Cup?

If Germany show up against the United States and play with Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag both hungry for goals, then Germany will win the World Cup. With the States their next direct rival, and then more than likely the reigning world champions waiting in the Final, Germany can take the challenge standing up and come out swinging – they’re going to win the tournament and deliver Silvia Neid her third World Cup trophy as her beautiful swan song for leading the number one ranked side in the world to their triumphant victories.

Best moment of the tournament so far?

The penalty shoot-out victory over France has now become Germany’s greatest moment. Getting into the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup now means that they’ve reached close to their objectives and only a single game remains between them and the final showdown. With France’s missed penalty in the shoot-out, Germany once again proved that they are the best international women’s side in the world and if they sink the United States then that could overshadow both France’s defeat and the clubbing of the Ivory Coast to crown the team’s campaign so far.

Key Player

With the closer matches now looming over Germany, Nadine Angerer once again comes into her own as one of the best players of the world. She already proved her worth time and again in the France v Germany clash but now must prove her might against some of the most lethal strikers in the world. Her ability may be the tipping point between the United States sending Germany home with their bags packed or Germany stepping into the bright lights of the Women’s World Cup grand final.

Injuries/Suspensions

Germany have remained above major injuries and suspensions in the tournament so far with their strong starting eleven now needed against the strongest team that they’ve come up against all competition. The United States are going to test them to their limits.

Prediction

It’s going to be a close game with a goal going each way in the first ninety minutes of the match but Germany is going to take the win over the United States in extra time off the boot of golden boot leader Celia Sasic.
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WWC Quarter-Final: Canada vs England

with Jacob Windon
England are through to their first Women’s World Cup Semi Final courtesy of two early goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze. Christine Sinclair pulled one back for the Canada before half-time but it was not enough for the hosts to salvage their campaign.

What Happened
England continued the momentum built from their second half against Norway last week to catch Canada sleeping. Jodie Taylor broke through an uncharacteristically soft-centred Canadian rearguard and finished with aplomb.


Just minutes later, Lucy Bronze rose highest to head in under the crossbar and double their advantage. It was extraordinarily bad defending from Canada for both goals, with Sesselman particularly culpable (never trust a defender who wears no. 10).

Canada were back into the game minutes before half time. Lawrence’s cross was spilled by Bardsley and pounced upon by Sinclair, whose superb cross-field switch had made the space for the crossing opportunity to arrive.

After half-time Karen Carney went close for England from long range after lashing one from 35 yards.

Karen Bardsley was then off sporting England’s second bruised eye of the tournament, replaced by Siobhan Chamberlain making her World Cup debut.

Schmidt went close when Canada picked up the intensity with 10 minutes left, volleying over from a corner. But Chamberlain was rarely tested, with England defending expertly for the entire second half.

A bitter defeat for Canada but an elated England keep growing in stature and momentum.

Stand Out Performances
A superb skipper’s knock from Steph Houghton led the way for England, who was immense in a solid defensive performance throughout. She may have abused her free-kick licence but Houghton used all her leadership and experience to recompose her team after Canada’s goal.

Christine Sinclair tried her heart out for Canada and dug deep to get her side back into game when they looked dead and buried. It’s sad to see her tournament end like this, when she could have been the heroine for her country.

Talking Points
Canada have won six of their last ten games 1-0. They’ve also drawn 0-0, 1-1 and won 2-0 in that period. That should give some idea of the unprecedented nature of the situation they found themselves in. They were put in a uncomfortable position via their own self-destruction and England’s ruthlessness. Whilst they rolled up their sleeves and fought back, it was too much of a mountain to climb. It does, however, show that Canada need to find a plan B on the rare occasions they go 2-0 behind in a game of this magnitude.

England, one feels, have been written off at every turn. They’ve failed to maintain a consistent standard of performance, were largely outplayed by Norway, got pegged back late by Mexico and Colombia, and have brought at least three or four changes to the lineup for every match. It’s a huge credit to the team that they have still found a way to get results despite struggling to assert themselves. England’s campaign should reopen time-honoured debates about squad management, rotation and finding stability and harmony in a team.

What it Means
No team in World Cup history has ever come back when trailing by two goals in a knockout stage. England are through to their first World Cup Semi Final in history.

What Next
England will be battling it out against Japan who came off a win this morning against Australia for a spot in the Final.

Needs Work
England were brilliant on the counter and this paid off with their early goals. Yet, towards the end of the match the increasing physicality and the pressure from the hosts who desired a late equaliser seemed to take its toll on all of England's players.

In their Semi Final England will need to ensure that they do not switch off and concede unnecessarily; this is as much of a mental battle as it is physical.

Goal of the Match
A fall by Lauren Sesselmann provided the perfect opening for England's Jodie Taylor to swoop in and take the ball. Taylor intelligently weaved her way through the hosts defence leaving them to urgently scatter around her to try and close down the play. The late scramble had no hope by the time Taylor fired into the back of the net, scoring the opener in the 12th minute of the match.

Miss of the Match
Canada's very first opportunity in the match to score also saw the miss of the match. Captain Christine Sinclair started off the play which made England's Laura Bassett scarily resemble David Luiz after being nutmegged.

Sinclair after showing off her skills, trailed off and crossed the ball to the other side of the field finding Melissa Tancredi, only for Tancredi to be unable to find the goal and fire right over the crossbar.
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