Let me stipulate that soccer is a fringe sport in the US, and women’s soccer is even fringier. I watch the English Premiere League and some MLS, but can’t get into the women’s game. That’s just the facts of life; soccer will never be our top sport. Let’s also stipulate that US goalkeeper Hope Solo may be the best women’s keeper in the world, and that she’s hot (that’s her over on the right). That’s not (necessarily) the reason to watch the US team play. Solo is also a commander in the net, as authoritative a figure as any in sports when the game is on the line. Unlike some NBA stars who make a lot more money, Hope Solo can play a full game and win it at the end. Ahem.
Having gotten all of that out of the way, the 2011 Women’s World Cup has provided some fantastic and memorable soccer this year. The US women’s team comes into the tournament ranked first in the world, but struggled to qualify for the tournament. They played some great soccer during their first two group stage matches, then fell apart and lost to Sweden to close out that stage. They faced speedy and skilled Brazil in the quarterfinal, and ended up having to overcome terrible officiating along with the opposing team and their five-time world player of the year to win in what, if we weren’t talking about women’s soccer, might stand alongside the 1980 Miracle on Ice for its dramatic fireworks and national mood lift. Check out the match highlights from ESPN:
The semi-final pits the US against France. In its quarterfinal, France dominated England for most of the game but couldn’t find the net until the 88th minute, tying the game at 1-1 to force extra time. Several English players nursed injuries through the extra time but neither side conceded a goal, so it was off to the penalty kick shootout, where France managed to squeak by for the win. So both teams got to the semis on last second comebacks to set up shootout victories.
That was on Saturday, which also featured yet another dramatic game as Japan defeated host and favorites Germany, 1-0 in the 117th minute. Germany came in ranked second in the world (Japan is fourth) and had not lost a Women’s World Cup Match in 12 years. Brazil, by the way, is the world’s third-ranked team and had not lost a game at all for two years, until the quarterfinal versus the US. Japan faces Sweden in its semi.
The USA vs France semi-final match is Wednesday at 11:45 eastern on ESPN. The US is expected to win, but it’s worth an Admiral Ackbar warning: The match could be a trap game for them. Given how both teams arrived at this point, it’s possible one may crack under the stress. But in all likelihood, we’re set for yet another dramatic match as both are set to use their comeback wins to push themselves as this year’s team of destiny.