By: Grant Fisken
Before the 1996 European Championships, The Lightning Seeds sang about England’s “30 years of hurt”. After the World Cup in Brazil last year it seemed certain the nation’s wait for a major football trophy was going to stretch past 50 years, but the England women’s team are potentially 180 minutes away from ensuring that does not happen.
After losing at the quarterfinal stage in all three of their previous World Cup appearances, England have finally made it through to the last four, something the men’s team have only achieved at their tournament twice in 14 attempts. This feat would have seemed unlikely after their opening 1-0 defeat against France, but four consecutive 2-1 victories has kept alive the possibility of England becoming the fifth different winner of the Women’s World Cup.
Their opponents in the last four will be holders Japan. History may be on England’s side as they are unbeaten in all three of their previous matches against Japan, including two at the World Cup. In fact, the last team to beat Japan at the World Cup were England, 2-0 in their final group match of the 2011 tournament. Japan bounced back to go on and lift the trophy, but this time there will be no second chances.
The holders are the only team to win all five of their matches at this World Cup, but there is still the belief they are yet to hit top gear. Japan have scored only seven goals on their way to the semifinal, each scored by a different player. The most surprising feature of that statistic is the absence of Homare Sawa’s name on that list. She was the winner of the Golden Ball and Golden Boot in 2011, finding the net in both the semifinal and final. Perhaps she is again waiting for the big occasion.
The first semifinal will bring together the two most successful teams in World Cup history, United States and Germany. They have met three times before at the World Cup, and the team that has gone through has always gone on to win the trophy.The most recent of those World Cup matches was in the 2003 semifinal, when Germany won 3-0 in Portland, but the US are unbeaten in normal time in all 11 matches between the teams since then (Germany won the 2006 Algarve Cup final on penalties). Overall, Germany’s record versus United States is poor with only four wins out of 31 matches against them.
One factor Germany have in their favour at this tournament is their goalscoring. Even taking out the 10 they scored against Ivory Coast in the opening match, they would still have scored more than each of the other three semifinalists. The Golden Boot winner also looks certain to be German with Celia Sasic (6) ahead of Anja Mittag (5), with no other player having scored more than three.
Two intriguing semifinals await, and for the final on Sunday will we see a Japan v United States rematch of the 2011 final, or maybe a classic England v Germany resumption of rivalries?