London 2012: Olympic soccer quarterfinals observations

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After nine goals in four women’s Olympic quarterfinal matches, two of the world’s top five teams have fallen, along with host nation Great Britain.  As the remaining four teams shift focus towards Monday’s semifinals, let’s take a look back at how a marathon day of soccer shook down.

France continues to surprise

The most consistent part of France’s squad this tournament has been its inconsistency, and that didn’t change Friday morning.  After getting bombarded and conceding early (and somewhat unluckily) against Sweden, the French stormed back to take the lead by halftime and held on for a 2-1 victory.  Just another unpredictable performance from the same team that had, already in this tournament, blown a two-goal lead to the U.S to lose, downed North Korea by a whopping five goals AND narrowly escaped lowly Colombia with a 1-0 victory.  Who knows what they’ll look like against Japan in the semifinals?  I’m not even sure France knows at this point.

U.S. firepower outlasts feisty New Zealand

Though many didn’t take New Zealand seriously after its first-ever Olympic victory secured a matchup with the mighty U.S., the Ferns held their own on Friday.  Though they earned few close range opportunities, New Zealand still limited a jumpy U.S. team to just one goal before a late tally put the game away.

As for the Americans, Alex Morgan’s inability to finish—she missed an empty net, whiffed on a cross inside the six-yard box and squandered multiple breakaways—is somewhat worrisome for the future, but this squad may actually be more talented than the World Cup runner-up team of 2011.  Morgan has vastly improved in the past year, while Sydney Leroux has filled the former’s 2011 role as a threatening speedster off the bench, burying a breakaway chance late for the U.S.’s second goal.  Having even shown the ability to overcome early deficits, the U.S. has to be considered the current gold medal favorite.

Brilliance and luck help Canada silence the home crowd

With two early goals, an energetic and creative Canadian squad silenced previously streaking Great Britain to end the host-nation’s chances at Olympic gold.  But after a brilliant one-touch strike off a corner kick—possibly the goal of the tournament thus far—to open the scoring, Canada’s second goal appeared somewhat lucky at a second glance (check out the highlights here).  Though Canadian captain Christine Sinclair struck a beautiful free kick, not only was the British wall aligned poorly, but its outer player leaned away from the shot, letting the ball fly by at head height while simultaneously screening the goaltender.  Considering Great Britain was also the victim of two tackles (one in each half) that could have each justified a penalty kick order from the referee, the local fans have a right to be miffed with the defeat.

Brazil’s talent proves no match for Japan’s chemistry and timely goals

Despite having a tremendous crop of talent, including the world’s best female player, Brazil fell in the quarterfinals of a major tournament for the second time in as many years with a 2-0 defeat to Japan.  While the Brazilians dominated possession without generating many great chances, the Japanese picked their spots to produce several great opportunities, burying one in each half.  Brazil’s frustration and intra-squad edginess was eerily reminiscent of the loaded Netherlands men’s squad that disappointed in the 2012 Euro, as the failure to score drew a number of glares between teammates.  Meanwhile, the Japanese chemistry couldn’t be better going into the semifinals, exemplified by a fluid, unselfish attack and an organized, full-team defensive effort.  Just two more victories would leave Japan as the only team ever to win the World Cup and Olympic gold medal in back-to-back years.

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