New venue, same old game for the US
The semi-final stage of the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship gets under way from Commonwealth Stadium in Alberta's bustling capital city of Edmonton with heavy tournament favourites the United States taking on the always-competitive, heavily motivated Germans in the first semi-final match on 29 August.
The US, predictably powerful from the word go, put their prowess on display for all to see with a raucous romp through their group and quarter-final phases in picturesque Victoria. Though Germany, for their part, have arrived to the penultimate stage by way of a somewhat more devious route.
As the US tore through the opposition in a goal-littered, near-perfect stretch of four matches, Germany only managed to finish second in an admittedly pitfall-laden Group B with a glaring 1:0 defeat at the feet of impressive fellow-semifinalists Brazil. It also took an heroic last-gasp golden goal effort, and two goals in five minutes from Linda Bresonik to seal Japan's fate and send the Europeans into the coveted semi-finals.
At a light training session less than 24 hours from kickoff, US head coach Tracey Leone had some words of wisdom regarding what promises to be a tense clash with tough-tackling, unpredictable Germany.
"The Germans are a strong side," conceded the US boss. Adding, "You can never be completely prepared for any given challenge, but I think playing teams like England and Denmark gives us a bit of a heads-up heading into the match ... They play a similar style to the Germans, but everyone has their own true style and nuance."
Coach Leone too got around to commenting on the challenges posed by a change of surroundings. Thursday's do-or-die clash will be the North American's first go-around outside of their home-away-from-home of sorts, Victoria.
"It's both a plus and a challenge to play in new and unfamiliar surroundings," remarked Leone. "Victoria was an amazing place and we all fell in love with it. The intimate stadium, the people … it was just great.
"But now we are really looking forward to playing in a new, large stadium and in front of a huge crowd … it should really drive home the fact that we are here, in the semifinals."
"As Leone and her high-flying squad do their final spit and polish, the tournament starlets are in no way putting the cart before the horse. The US boss retains a heartening sense of focus on the next step.
"We are going to do exactly what we've always done and focus on the task at hand, the immediate challenge."