U.S. show aggression to set up German clash (2:1)
The United States made sure of a mouth-watering semi-final clash against world champions Germany with a convincing 2-1 win over Japan in Thessaloniki on Friday. After an Emi Yamamoto free kick had equalised Kristine Lilly's first-half strike, Abby Wambach took advantage of a well-worked set play to score the winner.
Somewhat dissatisfied with the team's group performances, U.S. coach April Heinrichs made a number of changes to her line up bringing in veteran Brandi Chastain and promising midfielder Lindsay Tarpley.
With the Americans height advantage, the high ball was always going to be a key part of their game. Abby Wambach, 12cm taller than the tallest Japanese player, launched herself at the first corner after ten minutes but only made contact with a defender. Eight minutes later though, the striker connected to another deep corner from Mia Hamm but her header flashed just wide of an unguarded post.
U.S. keeper Briana Scurry had not had much to do in the first half hour but she was called upon when Mio Otani found space inside the box. The diminutive forward, though, failed to get any power in her headed effort. Eiji Ueda's side seemed to have weathered the storm and were starting to stroke the ball around comfortably, creating a chance of their own from a corner.
Then disaster struck. The ball was delivered into the area from the left and after an almighty scramble it fell invitingly for Lilly to notch her second goal in as many games (1-0, 43).
It seemed just the medicine the former world champions needed to steady their nerves, but three minutes after the break the Asians were back in it. Yamamoto swung in a long free kick that evaded Homare Sawa and Christie Rampone to bizarrely end up in the corner of the net with Scurry staring with hands on hips (1-1, 48).
|USA's Lindsay Tarpley fight for the ball against Japan. M. Stahlschmidt/SSP/FIFA|
After a rather dull opening the game was coming to life, and the Americans responded.
Wambach, who was throwing her weight about, spun on the edge of the box and fired a powerful right footer that Nozomi Yamago could not handle. Hamm, following up, squared the rebound - but behind her team-mates. Lilly shot wide when well placed seconds later as Heinrich's team upped the tempo.
Then the decisive moment arrived. The Japanese defence, well-drilled up to then, ran out as one as Hamm flighted a free kick over the top. Shannon Boxx, onside, ran onto the ball, and with three team-mates converging on goal, squared for Wambach to walk the ball into the goal (2-1, 59).
"Our scouts found out that they (Japan) pull the offside trap with free kicks 10 to 15 metres from goal, so we told our forwards to come out and allow the midfielders in," said a proud Heinrichs. "It was executed to perfection."
Japan's Ueda accepted the blame. "It is my responsibility. We had training yesterday and I taught them how to play the offside."
The dramatic goal spurred the Americans forward. Hamm had an effort saved, and Chastain headed over at the back post from another corner. Tarpley shot into the arms of Yamago and Julie Foudy's header was cleared off the line with ten minutes to go.
Despite their efforts, Japan, who were now leaving huge gaps at the back, could not break down the reorganised U.S. rearguard and but for a couple of nervy goalmouth scrambles did not trouble Scurry again.
"We had the same 11 players on the field for the whole 90 minutes," Heinrichs noted later. "Today we played aggressively and sustained that for the whole game. We had three days fewer rest than Japan so to win in such a commanding fashion is a good lift to our team.
"I have not seen Germany play yet but I'm very excited about it. I'm sure it will be another beautiful game."