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50-50 Challenge: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

El Clasico 1 day ago
Read
Aug 13, 2008

Brazil and Germany headed for a collision course

In general, the Olympicquarterfinal matchups showcase the deserving teams of this tournament, though one wonders how much better North Korea might have performed with a less brutal draw. The U.S. dodged a bullet named Brazil courtesy of Japan's comprehensive defeat of Norway. That results in a slightly easier road to the final for the Americans, but if anything is evident at the Games, it's how much the quality at the top of the women's game has tightened. Here's a look at the matchups:

U.S. vs. Canada

If familiarity breeds contempt, these two squads should hate each other, because though this is the Canadian soccer team's first time competing at the Olympics, the neighboring countries have faced each other many, many times. Historically, Canada gives the U.S. a tough match -- then loses.

It might be that the U.S. is in danger of getting caught in complacency, although the opening game loss to Norway probably shook that out of the Americans. Since that rude awakening, the team has looked sharper.

Canada, though, will not concede easily, especially since it's well aware that the loss of Abby Wambach robs the U.S. of a physical forward who was willing to battle Canada's defenders in the box. Oddly enough, this could work to the Americans' advantage to a certain degree, because Canada might not be ready to face the "small-ball" style that the U.S. now implements. Short corners, quick free kicks and through balls behind the defense to speedy players are all used more often under Pia Sundhage.

The U.S. also stepped up distribution and finishing, dividing up the scoring load among Carli Lloyd, Lindsey Tarpley, Angela Hucles, Amy Rodriguez and Heather O'Reilly. Canada has to mark the whole team tightly. Christine Sinclair may be Canada's main threat to score, as she has the skill and strength to turn the tables on the U.S.

There should be few surprises, however, because these teams know each other so well. The U.S. should prevail, but it has already been upset once, so its aura of invincibility has already been lost.

Brazil vs. Norway

Women's Olympic quarterfinals
Friday
U.S. vs. Canada
Shanghai, China
6 a.m. ET

Brazil vs. Norway
Tiangjin, China
6 a.m. ET

Sweden vs. Germany
Shenyan, China
9 a.m. ET

China vs. Japan
Qinhuangdao, China
9 a.m. ET

Norway followed up the most shocking upset of group play (its 2-0 defeat of the U.S.) with another astounding result (a 5-1 loss to Japan). What's especially odd is that Norway is usually one of the most reliable and consistent performers on the world stage. It's possible that Norway, assured of advancement already, "tanked" a bit to rest key performers. However, it's hard to imagine that any squad would willingly set itself up to face Brazil, one of the toughest squads to play.

Brazil is both physical and technical and can almost choose at will whether to defeat teams through artistry or athleticism. Christiane had a dream game versus gritty Nigeria, scoring a hat trick. The fact that Brazil is playing so well, even as Marta has yet to perform at her peak, reveals how deep the South American squad is. Defenders will focus only on Marta at their peril.

Yet if Norway administered a wake-up call to the U.S., the loss to Japan might have snapped Norway back to giant-killer mode. Marie Knutsen and Leni Kaurin work together well to create chances on goal. However, Brazil should advance.

Sweden vs. Germany

Germany might be ripe for an upset, but so far the Germans are clicking along like a train on schedule. Coach Silvia Neid has her charges performing like well-oiled machinery. The Germans haven't scored many goals (only two), but that only makes their smothering defense even more formidable. With its stalwart goalkeeper, Nadine Angerer, leading the way, Germany is the only tournament team that has yet to concede a goal.

Sweden doesn't have the size to win an aerial battle with Germany, so that leads to a decided advantage for the Germans on every set play. The Swedish attack may look more creative and canny, with quick passes and build-up, but the Germans have faced that possession style before and blunted it well.

Though the Germans have not won gold in this Olympic event, it's the last major title missing from their impressive résumé. Yet Germany has faced Sweden before in a high-pressure context -- the 2003 World Cup final -- and come out victorious, which gives it another slight edge. However, Swedish striker Lotta Schellin has come into her own this tournament. If there's one thing that can upset any top team, it's a fearless forward.

China vs. Japan

Norway did the host country, China, no favors by filling the Japanese team with so much confidence. Japan has long been a technically precise team that could use a bit of recklessness on the attack, to avoid falling into predictability. Faced with a do-or-die situation against Norway, Japan successfully threw caution to the wind. It chased the game, caught it and never looked back.

The savvy vet Homare Sawa still sets up most of her team's chances, but what makes Japan most effective is its coordinated effort.

China, meanwhile, has been a bit shaky in front of its home supporters, especially Han Duan. The Chinese topped their group, but it was a rather weak group with only one other squad with previous Olympic experience.

Like the U.S., China suffered from a last-minute withdrawal of an important forward with Ma Xiaoxu's untimely injury. It could be that the Chinese team has been tentative as a result of that but has now embraced the challenge of vying for glory in China. For that matter, the FIFA World Cup of last year might have become an important dress rehearsal of sorts for the players. Han Duan, for one, would be deadly if she overcomes her nerves.

These two teams are probably the most evenly matched of all the quarterfinal contests. As such, the game could turn on one single mistake or one superlative play. It won't be enough for China to score to start things off. Japan has fallen behind in each of its matches, but the team has fought back to earn a draw or better twice. With its knack for overcoming, Japan could pull off the upset.

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 soccercanales@yahoo.com.

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