Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics: Women's Soccer Semifinals

There was a dream match on the horizon: Brazil vs USA at the legendary MaracanĂ£ Stadium in the 2016 Olympic semifinals. The two countries played in numerous memorable meetings in the Women's World Cup and Olympics, but not since perhaps the most iconic: the 2011 Women's World Cup Quarterfinals when the shorthanded US tied Brazil late on an Abby Wambach header then beat them in penalty kicks.

It was not to be though, as Sweden upset the 2015 Women's World Cup champion United States in the Quarterfinals, eliminating them in a penalty shootout. Its the earliest ever exit for the USWNT since women's Olympic soccer was added at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.Though it was an upset, its not as shocking as many are making it out to be. First, Sweden have beaten the US 3 times recently, in addition to numerous ties. They know how to play the US, with frustrating defense and a scary counter attack. This of course caused Hope Solo to label them "cowards", though this tactic has been used for decades. Yes she was frustrated, but its out of line to call an opponent "cowards" in the Olympics. 

The United States dominated with 27 shots, but they had trouble finishing. They looked off all tournament, and it never felt like they were headed for gold. Former USA coach Pia Sundhage is now coach of Sweden, and she clearly knows how to game plan against her former team. 

China employed a similar defensive tactic against Germany, though they weren't as successful, with Germany handing them a 1-0 defeat. France continued to be the biggest underachievers in women's soccer, losing to Canada 1-0. Canada also beat France for the Bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics. France have a ton of talent but have yet to make a final in a major women's tournament (Olympics, World Cup, EURO). Canada have been the most impressive team by far, winning all 4 matches and taking down powerful Australia, France and Germany. Brazil and Australia played one of the most exciting 0-0 draws ever, with Brazil taking down Australia after a long penalty shootout. Surprisingly, superstar Marta had a penalty saved, though it didn't matter as Brazil were able to rally in front of a packed crowd.

So the Semifinals are set: Brazil vs Sweden and Canada vs Germany. These are both rematches from the group stage. Brazil dominated Sweden 5-1, and Canada edged Germany 2-1. Sweden may play Brazil similar to how they played the United States, though I still expect Brazil to pull it out in front of a sold out MaracanĂ£. Canada-Germany is a tough one. Canada look much better, but beating Germany twice in one tournament is a tall task. Christine Sinclair didn't play in the last meeting, which could be enough to give Canada another victory. 

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