At the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, legendary German player Franz Beckenbauer said this about his nation’s performance: “Apart from Kahn (the goalkeeper), you could put that lot in a bag and beat it with a stick and whoever got hit would deserve it.”
This seems somewhat harsh — especially as they reached the final — and I’m not an advocate for treating either male or female soccer players like a piñata.
But if the USA loses to Colombia on Monday night, it will go down as the worst World Cup performance since the inaugural tournament in 1991. The Americans have been rewarded for winning their group with the easiest path to the semifinal that they could have wished for.
The South Americans are the weakest and lowest-ranked country left in the competition. However they have already pulled off the biggest shock in the tournament’s history when they defeated third-ranked France in the opening stage, and the United States will not be taking anything for granted.
That match saw a disciplined defensive display, but it was the only win they have ever managed in the finals. Furthermore, they were outshot 22-3 by the French and had just 33 percent of the possession. The lesson for the USA is that you have to make sure to take your chances. In the past two games combined, the U.S. has managed just one goal; its shooting needs to be better Monday.
The most interesting question is which strikers does coach Jill Ellis go with? Alex Morgan is one of the deadliest finishers in the world but is not yet match-fit. Despite her winner against Nigeria, Abby Wambach has looked to be flagging at times, while Sydney Leroux has been sharp and energetic so far. This trio has to become a duo with one starting on the bench, but I’ve no doubt that all three will get playing time.
Expect the Americans to dominate possession while Colombia keeps 10 players behind the ball, closing down the space, happy to cede possession and territory while they defend for long periods of the contest.
In fact, Colombia’s victory over France was probably a good thing for the United States — a timely warning of the danger of being complacent at this level.
So without getting ahead of ourselves, if the U.S. wins as expected, then it will meet China in the quarterfinals. By then, China is also likely to be the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.
I’m sure that the Americans are too professional and focused to consider Monday’s match a foregone conclusion. And if not … well there’s always Franz and his big stick.