After struggling in the group stage, the United States are right where they wanted to be, in the final of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup, after defeating Nigeria 2:0 on Tuesday in the first semifinal, via a header goal by Morgan Brian and a counter-attack goal off the foot of Kealia Ohai. In the later semifinal, host Japan fell to a merciless Germany who scored a goal in the first minute and then added two more in the next eighteen minutes.
Thus, the United States and Germany will meet in the title match on September 8th at 6:30 a.m. EDT. That match will be televised live on ESPNU, starting at 6:20 a.m. EDT, with Adrian Healey and Julie Foudy as commentators, instead of the single pool announcer (Foudy’s Twitter).
Japan and Nigeria will play in the Third Place match, which is also on Saturday and kicks off at 3:00 a.m. EDT (TV: ESPNU).
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Some will say that Nigeria was the better team. The match’s possession statistic backs that up: The Nigerians dominated possession 58% to 42% (or 32 minutes vs. 23 minutes). And, it was clear that Nigeria had the athletic, speed, and skill advantage in a few attacker-v-defender match-ups. But, the Nigerians were never able to take advantage of their chances because the mental disciplined was lacking, while the United States had that discipline, especially on defense.
Meanwhile, the United States was able to take advantage of its chances, first capitalizing on two defensive errors: (1) a half-hearted clearance that went straight to a wide open Mollie Pathman (there was no Nigeria player within fifteen yards), and (2) no defender tracked the run of Morgan Brian who, totally unmarked, calmly headed in the USA’s first goal.
The USA’s second goal came on an intelligent counter-attack where Sarah Killion won the ball back, dribbled some and passed to Chioma Ubogagu out on the left flank. Ubogagu passed to an open Samantha Mewis who slotted the ball in behind Nigeria’s back line where Kealia Ohai latched on after easily running around her nearest defender, Fasilat Adeyemo (#13). Then, Ohai received the ball in the box, settled it, and shot home the insurance goal, which deflected off the Nigerian goalkeeper’s knee. Meanwhile, Adeyemo made no effort to help defend Ohai.
Statistics-wise, the match was very even in all categories except the previously mentioned possession. Both teams had 10 shots with only 3 on goal, but all of Nigeria’s efforts on target came in the last fifteen minutes or so of the match. Nigeria had a slight advantage in corners, 7 versus 6, and had more fouls committed, 6 versus 4. The number of fouls is a far, far cry from the 2010 quarterfinal that went to penalties where Nigeria committed 26 fouls and the United States only 5.
Nigeria did have an excellent chance early to take the lead in the 8th minute when a sliding clearance by a Nigerian defender released Fransisca Ordega on a sprinting counterattack. Ordega’s shot from outside the box nutmegged USA goalkeeper Bryane Heaberlin but went a yard wide of the right post. However, if Ordega has stopped the ball when Heaberlin committed and then dribbled around the American ‘keeper, then Ordega could have walked in on goal.
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It should have been more of a contest, but Japan’s early back line mistakes and poor tactical strategy allowed Germany to score three goals in the first twenty minutes. From the opening whistle, Japan was never able to adjust their game to match Germany’s high pressure and high-fouling defense.*
*Germany had 19 fouls called and was rather lucky not to see any yellow cards for persistent infringement. Comparatively, Nigeria only fouled the United States 6 times, which was three time less than its average fouls in the 2010 USA/Nigeria quarterfinal (FIFA.com) which went to penalties (26 fouls or 19.5 per 90 minutes). And, by the way, this year’s semifinals fell on one of FIFA’s annual Fair Play Days (FIFA.com).
Germany’s first goal when Japan’s Hikaru Naomoto (#8), after receiving the ball was surrounded by three German players on the sideline — forward Lena Lotzen (#11), holding midfielder Kathrin Hendrich (#6), and wide midfielder Nicole Rolser (#9). Lotzen dispossessed Naomoto and then Rolser chipped the ball just out of the scrum. Then, Hendrich latched onto the ball and dribbled a bit before passing to Dzensifer Marozsan (#14). Marozsan then dribbled in between two tight Japanese defenders and slotted a diagonal pass toward goal. Meanwhile, Melanie Leupolz (#8), started wide open at the edge of the center circle and made a straight run down the center of the pitch and ran past both of Japan’s centerbacks, Hikari Takagi (#17) on her left and Maya Doko (#20) on her right, before taking one touch and then angling a right-footed grounder just inside the left post. The primary defensive error on this play was Takagi’s, as she was in a better position to track Leupolz, but failed to do so. Doko’s brief hesitation by cheating forward also allowed space for Marozsan’s pass and Leupolz’s run. If Doko had stayed her ground or retreated backwards, then it is much more likely that she could have disrupted the play.
Germany’s next goal came when a Japanese player sent a slow pass up the left flank, which was headed by Luisa Wensing (#5) to Leonie Maier (#2). Maier lofted a high ball up to Dzsenifer Marozsan, who had Kinoshita just ahead of her. Shiori Kinoshita (#3) tried to head the ball away, but misjudged the lofted flight of the ball, allowing it to bounce in front of her and Marozsan. After the bounce, Marozsan chipped the ball over the head of Japan’s goalkeeper, Sakiko Ikeda, who had come out for the ball.
The third German goal was a classic example of the perils of zonal defense on a corner kick. Japan had nine defenders within twelve yards of the goal, while Germany only had one. The Germans had a group of four attacker at the top of the box, completely unmarked, with no one tracking them. As Marozsan sent in her kick, Wensing and Lotzen where the first two to head toward the ball’s flight, but Wensing went too far and in a way provided some blocking for Lotzen who was able to jump up unfettered and head in a shot. The onus for this goal is more on Japan’s head coach, Hiroshi Yoshida, than the players, as when playing against a team that has solid heading ability (especially relative to their age cohorts), the top two or three players need to be man-marked.
Additional fault should be assigned to Yoshida for not having a tactical strategy which took into account Germany’s aggressive full-field defending. Japan’s possession-oriented passing game was generally too slow and not direct enough to break down Germany’s defense.
Also, even after Japan was down three goals, the team primarily kept playing its same style. This was most evident on free kicks following fouls. For kicks in the midfield, Japan would usually take them somewhat quickly and indirectly, which allowed Germany’s defense to get back into their proper positions, rather than trying to load the box and launch a ball into a scrum.
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LOOKING TOWARD THE FINAL
This will be the first time that Germany and the United States have met in the title match of any FIFA women’s tournament, let alone an Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
Although, it will be the fifth time that the two squads have met in a knock-out match of the U-19/U-20 WWC. Previously, the teams have met in…
- the semifinals of the 2002 U-19 WWC, which was a 4:1 USA win;
- the semifinals of the 2004 U-19 WWC, where Germany won 3:1;
- the quarterfinals of the 2006 U-20 WWC, which the USA won 4:1; and
- the semifinals of the 2008 U-20 WWC, where the Americans won 1:0.
And, yes, this will be the squads’ second match in less than a fortnight, as the two played in a group match on August 27th, which Germany won 3:0. That was the first official win for Maren Meinert against the United States in three tries, as she has been the German U-20 WNT head coach going back to the 2006 cycle.
Both teams will likely make some changes from the line-ups in the group match.
For the United States, centerback Cari Roccaro should get the start ahead of the slower and less aggressive Kassey Kallman, while forward Kealia Ohai should be up top, probably in place of Katie Stengel. It is possible that Kelly Cobb may get a start up top, but Swanson’s use of her seems to have been mostly in order to rest other forwards, namely Chioma Ubogagu, in order to have her fresh legs go up against the tired legs and minds of the opponents’ defenses. With everything on the line, Swanson could go with the same speedy front line — Hayes, Ohai, and Ubogagu — as he did against Ghana, in order to try and win the match from the get-go, rather than through a more pragmatic approach.
Swanson could possibly use Ubogagu off the bench and not start Cobb either, if he goes with Samantha Mewis, who has been excellent in creating scoring opportunities, as a starter in the midfield and moves Morgan Brian out wide as a forward.
In the group match, Germany rested fullback Carolin Simon, who was sitting on a yellow card, along with wide midfielder Melanie Leupolz, so those two could get starts ahead of Annabel Jaeger and Silvana Chojnowski, respectively.
To defeat Germany, the Americans will need to be more disciplined in their defense and more potent in their attack. Starting Roccaro and Ohai in place of Kallman and Stengel will be important building blocks toward those objectives. Also, the United States will need to play fast one- and two-touch passing in order to limit the effectiveness of Germany’s physical and aggressive defending. The USA will also need to be equally aggressive in defending, although without making as many fouls.
For the Germans to win, they may just need to let the United States make a poor mistake or two and pounce on those, but given the American mentality, those will be harder to come by in this re-match. So, Germany will need to continue to be aggressive in their attack and either try to score during the run of play or earn corner kicks and dangerous free kicks. But, the USA’s lack of fouling should make those free kicks few and far between.