The English are storming into the semi-finals on the heels of two straight 3-0 victories and ready to ruin American’s repeat dreams. Here are a few things to pay attention to in what is sure to be a tightly contested match.
Battles Out Wide—Nikita Parris vs. Crystal Dunn and Megan Rapinoe vs. Lucy Bronze:
The thrill of dynamic attackers clashing with staunch defenders is one of the very best parts of soccer, and we’re about to be blessed with two electric matchups in one game.
Parris is a workhorse and the creative battery powering England’s attack. Her ability to beat defenders and send in accurate services are the steel beams supporting Ellen White’s tournament-leading five goals. If there’s anyone who can slow her down, though, it’s Crystal Dunn. Excepting some occasional sloppiness, she’s been a tireless force in disrupting attacks out wide. She has the pace to keep up with Parris, but will need to remain disciplined, both with her challenges and with her passing, and would be wise not to advance too high on attacks, leaving herself exposed on the counter. We are likely to get numerous 1v1 situations between the two stars, each moment with the potential to be a defining play in the match. Are you drooling, too?
Rapinoe has been transcendent for the US, scoring all of their goals in each of the last two games. This is her third world cup, and her experience and composure has dragged the US to victory throughout the knockout stages so far. She will test the wits and discipline of England’s steady defender, Lucy Bronze, and aim for similar success in the semi-final. Bronze has been an anchor for the Lioness back line, which relies on her mistake-free defending and excellent passing to keep the opposition out. This will be the tallest task of her young career so far, and if she is able to stay in front of Rapinoe and force her into uncomfortable deliveries, she can put a severe dent in the American’s sterling attack.
Who scores first?
This World Cup has not been one for comebacks. The first team to score has been the eventual winner in 41 of the 46 games in which at least one goal was scored. That’s just a tick under 90% of the time, as if there wasn’t already a heavy incentive to being the first on the score sheet. This is where the Americans can really give England a lot of trouble. The Lionesses have been content to patiently pick teams apart, eventually cashing in on quality chances—an appropriate tactical style for a team that has yet to trail in any match thus far. But this is a luxury they may not be able to enjoy against an American side that has shown a knack for early goals, even claiming the quickest goal of the tournament: a third-minute poacher's finish from Lindsey Horan.
The US approach has consistently been to press up and aggressively seek first-blood, and if it works once again, they will likely shake England out of their comfort zone. If a team like England is forced to accelerate their attack, it often results in sloppy passing and players being caught out of position. If England can remain sturdy on the back line, though, and prevent the early US goal, they have all the tools to grab a goal later on and hang on to that lead until the end.
Fitness and Fatigue:
Both teams are playing their third game in just over a week, and the French summer heat is beating down stronger than ever. Many players from both sides have played every minute possible, and fatigue is sure to set in. As soon as the legs start to feel heavy, the sharpness of mind can disappear quickly and lead to costly mistakes. It’s hard to say who will blink first—both England and the US are veteran teams with plenty of experience in high-pressure situations. The Americans are looking to reach their third-straight final and England is eager to learn from their mistakes and rectify the gutting own goal that kept them out of the final in 2015. These are two balanced squads with an unwavering gaze on the trophy, and the deciding factor may very well be who can stay on the front foot from the first kick to the final whistle.