Brazil-Germany matchup destined to be a classic
The clash between Brazil and Germany is potentially one of the most memorable matchups in women's soccer history.
Both teams have demonstrated that they are at or near their peak during this tournament, and both squads come into the final clash at virtually full-strength.
Germany defeated Norway handily in a 3-0 victory, to advance to the final. Brazil demolished the U.S. 4-0 to reach its first World Cup title match.
Both teams have played sterling soccer at times, both offensively and defensively. Germany has scored a total of 19 goals, while Brazil has knocked in 17. Both have displayed impressive defense. Germany has not been scored upon in the entire tournament, while Brazil conceded goals in only one match.
Yet the two have also revealed some vulnerabilities. Germany was held to a tie versus England in group play. Brazil has won each of its matches, but relied on late winners in games against Denmark and Australia. Both squads benefited in the semifinal matches when their rivals gave up an own goal as the opening goal.
Brazil's star, Marta, has gone supernova with the way she led her squad's impressive win over the U.S., scoring two quality goals by beating the defense with deft dribble moves. However, Brigit Prinz, Germany's icon, was as vital in her own way to her team's victory over Norway, setting up two of the goals with her intelligent play and passes.
It could well be that the difference in the match could be the supporting cast, especially if the respective defenses focus on Prinz and Marta.
Germany's midfield is perhaps the only one in the world that can hope to limit Brazil on that territory. The players do not possess the speed that Brazil does, but they control the ball just as well, albeit without the trickiness and creativity of the Brazilians.
The advantage the Germans can claim in midfield is that of better familiarity with each other, communication and the ability to string together sets of passes through midfield. Brazil has not played nearly the number of matches together as this German squad has.
Renate Lingor might have only two assists in the tournament, but the experienced German No. 10 can steady the team with her possession skills and help her teammates, especially Kerstin Garefrekes, Melanie Behringer and Simone Laudehr, link together on attacks. She's also unafraid to attack the goal alongside Prinz, and has four goals to her credit at the World Cup.
Of course, Brazil counters the roster of Germany with supremely skilled and athletic individual players. The cohesion of Daniela, Maycon, and Formiga has been building throughout the tournament. Their confidence is at an all-time high.
Yet Germany knows something about the emotional let-down a big win can cause. They trounced Argentina 11-0, in an opening match where almost everything they did turned into a goal. They lacked the same intensity and execution in their next match versus England, which resulted in a scoreless draw. Their impenetrable defense saved them in that game where their offense sputtered.
It could very well be that after defeating its Olympic nemesis, the U.S., that Brazil suffers a similar sort of setback. The intensity the Brazilians brought to the match has the potential to be draining, robbing the team of the energy it needs to counter the discipline of the Germans.
Coach Jorge Barcellos did his squad no favors by subbing not a single player in the match versus the U.S. The Brazilians already will play on Sunday with a day less of rest than Germany.
Germany's coach, Sylvia Neid, has proved to be a more clever tactician. She has been unafraid to pull players and add others to help spark the squad. Fatmire Bajramaj contributed versus Norway and could give the Germans a decided advantage if the match reaches the point where substitutes make a difference.
Though defenses hardly get the glory, the match could well be decided on that count. The U.S. was unable to put much pressure on Brazil, but the success that Denmark nearly had against the squad indicates that if Germany can hold off the Brazilian forwards, chances eventually will come against a Brazilian defense that sometimes makes errors.
Stylistically, the two teams are nearly complete opposites -- but they are also the masters of what they do well. In the battle of the samba versus the polka, whoever can make beautiful music with the ball eventually will prevail.
U.S. versus Norway (Third-place game)
It's perhaps a bit unfair to term Norway as Germany-lite, but it's not a comparison that is far off. One could say that the U.S. also has moved in this direction as well, though their direct style has a different bent. The U.S. players are pesky on defense, send the ball quickly to top threat Abby Wambach, or work the ball around for a set-play opportunity.
The Hope Solo/Briana Scurry goalkeeping subplot that has taken center stage could have the biggest impact on the game. While Norway faces little in the way of distractions, the U.S. must contend with a number of controversies, including Greg Ryan's decisions as coach, and the matter of who will start in goal. The psyche of a much-humbled team could be too fragile to focus completely on the match, giving Norway a distinct edge.
Perhaps Ryan finally will give little-used players, such as Natasha Kai and Lindsey Tarpley, a chance to stretch their legs in the match and bring new energy to what must be disheartened group. The midfield will, at minimum, be changed due to the red card absence of Shannon Boxx.
The U.S. has never finished worse than third place at a World Cup. Then again, the U.S. had never suffered a worse loss in its history than it did versus Brazil on Thursday.
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at email@example.com.