(photo from Imago/zumapress.com)
Before the Women's World Cup began, the German team was installed as the prohibitive favorites to win. Instead, the final in Frankfurt will be the United States against Japan, a match-up that looked stunningly unlikely just two weekends ago. Both the Yanks and the Japanese lost their last matches in group play, and so had to face very tough quarterfinal opponents, U.S. vs. Brazil and Japan vs. Germany.
The U.S. beat the Brazilians and Marta on penalty kicks. This was a big win, but not technically an upset. When the Japanese beat Germany in extra time 1-0. This was a huge upset.
The U.S. women are ranked number one in the world, and this finally might be the time for Abby Wambach (white headband, far right) to be the star on a winning World Cup team. She was the Next Big Thing when the superstars of the nineties were retiring. The Americans won the Olympic medals during her tenure as the number one goal scoring threat, but not the World Cup this century.
(photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP)
It pains me to write this, but I don't think they are the best team on the field this Sunday. If size were all that mattered, the game would not be played. It's going to look like a high school team playing middle schoolers when the U.S. plays Japan, but after a few minutes it should be clear that the middle schoolers are really good. The press will focus on stars, and Homare Sawa is the big name for the Japanese, but the real story is how well they pass and maintain possession.
It's madness to compare a woman's team to FC Barcelona right now. Heck, it's probably a mistake to compare any men's national team to Barça, they are so crazy good. But expect the Japanese to put on a clinic on Sunday.
In the past two weeks, the U.S. lost to the Swedes and the Swedes were crushed by the Japanese. The U.S. has to hope for some kind of rock/paper/scissors situation or they are going to get run into the ground.
For any U.S. fans who stop by - and I am a fan myself, by the way - take heart in the fact that I suck at prediction. I thought the Dutch could keep up with Spain in the men's World Cup final last year.
If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, there will be a big screen up in the Civic Center Plaza right across from City Hall where you can watch the game with a crowd for free. It's easy to get to on BART and it can be a lot of fun. My blog buddy (and real life buddy) sfmike has reported on the World Cup games there so far here and here.
I saw the Giants win the World Series there and it was a blast. The crowd probably won't be the same size, but it's the place to be at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday.
Hope to see you there.