Global stars collide in Cardiff

Reigning world champions Japan are set to battle it out for a semi-final berth with the runners-up at the last two Women's Olympic Football Tournaments, Brazil.

If that were not enticing enough, the showdown also brings two of the best players in the women’s game face to face: Seleção captain Marta, five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, and the player who took that accolade off her last year, Japan’s Homare Sawa. The Nadeshiko skipper was also the winner of the adidas Golden Ball at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.

The match
Brazil-Japan, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Friday 3 August, 17:00 (local time)

The stakes
The Japanese, runners-up in Group F, have yet to fully hit their stride at the tournament. After starting their campaign with a win over Canada that showcased their slick short-passing game, they could only manage goalless draws with group winners Sweden and South Africa, the coach resting several of his big name players for the latter game. Moreover, the partnership of Sawa and Aya Miyama, one of Japan’s principle weapons at Germany 2011, has yet to reach similar heights at London 2012.

Canarinha coach Jorge Barcellos, who was also at the helm when Brazil took silver in Beijing, has so far been banking on his tried-and-tested stars. And while they looked dazzling in their opening game against Cameroon, they subsequently struggled in a laboured win over New Zealand and were second-best in a very tough fixture against Great Britain at Wembley.

That defeat against a very disciplined host-nation side not only wounded their pride, but raised several doubts about the team. Having seen their play stymied by Hope Powell’s charges, Brazil have work to do if they hope to deal effectively with the world champions.  

The teams have met on eight previous occasions. However, this will be only the second time in the finals of a FIFA tournament, after the South Americans triumphed 2-0 in a group-stage meeting at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

The stat
4 -
This will be the fourth time in the five editions of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament that Brazil have faced the reigning world champions. In 1996, they drew 0-0 with Norway in the group phase. Four years later they lost against USA in the semi-finals, with Mia Hamm getting the only goal of the game, and at Beijing 2008 they played out a scoreless group-phase draw with Germany. On only one occasion, Athens 2004, did they manage to avoid the world champions, at the time also Germany.

The words
“Collectively we didn’t play well against Great Britain but, as I pointed out to the girls, we only lost a game, not a title or a medal. Now we have another challenge against Japan, and rest assured we’ll give it everything out there on the pitch,” Jorge Barcellos, Brazil coach.

“If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that Brazil are one of most talented teams in the world. Our main asset is our team play, but we know how hard we’ll have to work to go up against a team like that. That said, we’re ready to continue down the path towards Olympic gold,” Norio Sasaki, Japan coach.