Thursday, August 19, 2004
Notes from Thessaloniki, Greece
U.S. TEAM PREPARES FOR JAPAN IN QUARTERFINALS: The U.S. Olympic Soccer Team faces Japan in one of four quarterfinal matches tomorrow, playing its third straight match at Kaftanzolglio Stadium in Thessaloniki. The match kicks off at 6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET and will be broadcast on MSNBC and Telemundo. Fans can also follow the action on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker presented by Philips Electronics. In the other quarterfinal games, 2003 Women’s World Cup champion Germany faces the Super Falcons of Nigeria, while Brazil takes on Mexico in a match with definite Latin flair. 2003 WCC runner-up Sweden, who was less than 30 minutes from elimination before scoring twice to defeat Nigeria in its last group game, takes on an Australia team bolstered by its 1-1 tie with the USA last Tuesday. The Japanese team arrived in Thessaloniki yesterday afternoon from Athens where they played their last group game on Aug. 14, and will have a huge advantage over the U.S. team as Japan will be playing on five days rest while the USA will have had just two, one of the perils of a tournament that features 10 teams and two groups of three and one of four. The U.S. team trained on Thursday morning at Toumba Stadium during a sharp session that lasted a little less than one hour.
Aug. 20 Quarterfinal Matches
Match-up Venue Kickoff
Germany vs. Nigeria Patra 6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET
USA vs. Japan Thessaloniki 6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET
Mexico vs. Brazil Heraklio 9 p.m. local / 2 p.m. ET
Sweden vs. Australia Volos 9 p.m. local / 2 p.m. ET
REST, ITALIAN FOOD AND THE WHITE TOWER: Like they did after the second group match, the U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team did not train the day after their final Group G match vs. Australia, instead swimming through a short pool workout in the morning before having the rest of the day off until a 6 p.m. meeting, after which the team bussed to downtown Thessaloniki for a dinner out. As most Greeks don’t start eating dinner until at least 9 p.m., the Italian restaurant had to open early for the U.S. team, which enjoyed a fantastic meal (something the U.S. team has become accustomed to in Greece) and had a few minutes to peruse the shops in the area after dinner before re-boarding the bus parked in front of Thessaloniki’s most famous landmark, the White Tower. Dating back to the 15th century, the tower looks like a huge chess piece (a rook for those grand masters out there) perched right on the water and has an infamous history as a notorious prison and place for executions. It did not look as ominous with a monster two-story TV screen erected next to it so the Greek fans can watch the Olympics from the streets.
JAPAN TO PRESENT DIFFICULT CHALLENGE FOR USA: While in the modern age of women’s international soccer, there is no such thing as an "easy" quarterfinal match, the USA got perhaps the most difficult match-up of all the group winners when an unexpected set of circumstances pushed Japan to third in its group behind Sweden and Nigeria. The USA and Japan tied 1-1 in their first meeting on June 6 in Louisville, Ky., in a match played on a very hard synthetic surface that seemed to favor the skillful Japanese, who took the match to the USA in the first half, getting a 20th minute goal from Eriko Arakawa, who has also scored Japan’s lone goal of the Olympics in a 1-0 win over Sweden. Abby Wambach tied the match in the 59th minute and both teams had chances to win the game thereafter. Japanese star Homare Sawa did not play in that match while recovering from knee surgery, but is 100% healthy and will be ready to go tomorrow. The U.S. team will be hard-pressed to slow the skillful and tactical Japanese, perhaps the best team in the world (along with Brazil) at stringing together passes in the attack. Japan does not feature tall players, but all are extremely tough in the air and into the tackle and seem to make up for their lack of size with extra heart. Still, while the Japanese have historically had trouble breaking through the U.S. back line, they had some of their best chances in recent memory against the USA in their last meeting. Once again, the U.S. athleticism should put pressure on the back line of the Japanese, who have no one to match 5-foot-11 Abby Wambach in the aerial game. The USA has rolled up some big scores on Japan during the history between the two teams, but that all changed at the turn of the millennium as the last three contests in this decade have all been tight draws, with two 1-1 scores and one 0-0 match. Japan comes into the match having scored just one goal over 180 minutes in the 1-0 upset of Sweden and the 0-1 loss to Nigeria, while the USA has scored six goals over 270 minutes.
A LOOK AT JAPAN: Japan will be especially motivated for this game as it is the first time in a world championship since the 1995 Women’s World Cup that Japan has advanced out of the first round. Japan features a plethora of similar players, but their similar qualities are all good ones. While lacking height, Japan will start a team of 10 field players that are all quick, brave and skillful, and are not bothered by the ball at their feet, with players running at them or with throwing their small bodies into any tackle anywhere on the field. Those qualities make Japan awfully tough to break down on the attack and difficult to dispossess on defense. Japan’s unquestioned leader is former Atlanta Beat star Homare Sawa, who is widely recognized as one of the best creative midfielders in the world. The 26-year-old was one of the best players in the WUSA and is Japan’s all-time leading scorer with 48 goals in her 81 caps. The next closest scorer on the roster is forward Mio (that’s MiO not MiA) Otani, who has 23 goals in her 39 caps, and Japan also will bring danger from the tiny but deadly Yayoi Kobayashi (who saw time in the Beat’s pre-season camp in 2003), who has 11 goals in her 45 caps. Japan always seems to feature experienced backs and this Olympic team is no different, with defenders Hiromi Isozaki (54 caps) and veteran Yasuyo Yamagishi (47 caps) leading the way. Japan’s goalkeeper Nozomi Yamago is short, but surprisingly good in the air and very athletic. Japanese head coach Eiji Ueda has started the same 11 players in both games: Yamago, Isozaki, Kawakami, Yamagishi, Sakai, Shimokozura, Miyamoto, Sawa, Kobayashi, Arakawa and Otani.
RISING ASIAN POWER: Japan finished second in the Asian Qualifying for the 2004 Olympics by dethroning reigning Asian champion North Korea in the semifinals by a 3-0 score in front of more than 30,000 fans in Tokyo. Japan benefited from a North Korean own goal in the match, albeit off a brilliant Japanese build up, and also got goals from Eriko Arakawa and Mio Otani. Japan fell 1-0 to China in the Asian Championship Final, but already had booked its place in Greece with the rousing semifinal victory. Japan brings a veteran team the Olympics -- a team almost identical to its 2003 Women’s World Cup side -- with 11 players having earned 30 or more caps.
WAMBACH BACK: The USA gets its leading scorer back as forward Abby Wambach returns from suspension for the quarterfinal match against Japan. Wambach has put together one of the best years for a forward in U.S. history, scoring 16 goals, in 17 games, before missing the Australia match last Tuesday. She has scored 30 goals in her first 42 games (one of the best ratios in U.S. history) and will be looking for her second goal in a world championship quarterfinal after scoring the winner in the USA’s 1-0 victory over Norway at the 2003 FIFA Women’s world Cup.
GONE IS THE GOLDEN GOAL: If any of tomorrow's quarterfinal matches end in a tie, the matches will go with the "old school" overtime of two 15-minute periods as FIFA has done away with the golden goal. If the match is still tied after 30 scoreless minutes, the games will go to penalty kicks.
Goalkeepers (2): 18-Kristin Luckenbill, 1-Briana Scurry; Defenders (6): 6-Brandi Chastain, 14-Joy Fawcett, 15-Kate Markgraf, 2-Heather Mitts, 3-Christie Rampone, 4-Cat Reddick; Midfielders (6): 7-Shannon Boxx, 11-Julie Foudy, 8-Angela Hucles, 13-Kristine Lilly, 5-Lindsay Tarpley, 10-Aly Wagner; Forwards (4): 9-Mia Hamm, 17-Heather O’Reilly, 12-Cindy Parlow, 16-Abby Wambach.
Goalkeepers (2): 1-Nozomi Yamago, 18- Shiho Onodera; Defenders (6): 2-Yano Kyoko, 3-Hiromi Isozaki, 4-Yumi Obe, 5-Naoko Kawakami, 12-Yasuyo Yamagishi, 13-Aya Shimokozuru; Midfielders (7): 6-Tomoe Sakai, 7-Emi Yamamoto, 8-Tomomi Miyamoto, 10-Homare Sawa, 15-Miyuki Yangita, 16-Yayoi Kobayashi, 17-Kozue Ando; Forwards (3): 9-Eriko Arakawa, 11-Mio Otani, 14-Karina Maruyama.
U.S. QUOTE SHEET:
U.S. head coach April Heinrichs on the increasing parity in women’s soccer:
"Japan is definitely on the rise. Who would have thought that at this point in this tournament that China, Canada and Norway would not be here and that Sweden would struggle?"
Heinrichs on Japan:
"They have speed, technique and athleticism with and without the ball and those qualities alone are enough to keep them in the game and create moments in the game where they can be commanding."
Heinrichs on lessons learned in the tournament:
"We had a half against Brazil were we knew that to be 0-0 at halftime was fortunate for us. That was a moment in this tournament that we have reflected back on and will use that as a lesson moving forward into the knockout round."
Heinrichs on Japanese star Homare Sawa:
"She strikes the ball as well as any player in the game today."
Forward Mia Hamm on the quarterfinal clash with Japan:
"I am excited about the challenges for tomorrow. We have not performed in the way we feel we can, and we need to do that to continue in this tournament. We are going to need that kind of performance to move on because Japan is incredibly talented and technical and they have probably made some of the best improvements of any team in the world in the past three or four years. It will take our best."
Defender Christie Rampone on how to find success in the Japan match:
"We have to go at them and put them under pressure instead of being under pressure ourselves. We have to make them feel us on their backs and create from that. We’ve trained to be able to play a 90-minute game with that kind of intensity and pressure. (Against Japan on June 6) we came out a little flat in the first half and picked it up a lot in the second and ended the game strong, we so have to take that and bring it into this game."
Midfielder Kristine Lilly on the Japan match:
"We have to go into the game with our focus. All the Asian teams are very quick and organized, so we know that going into the game. We have to attack as a group, defend as a group and make them spend more time defending than attacking."
Lilly on Sawa:
"She’s the type of player who can finish goals, but also play-make, so you never know what she is going to do. One thing I learned playing against her in the WUSA is that she never stops. She’s always working hard and making sure her team is getting in the right positions. She’s a great player and I respect her a lot. If we can make her play more defense, that will help us."
U.S. captain Julie Foudy on the USA’s 1-1 draw with Japan in June:
"We just had one of those games where everyone was off. We played them on a synthetic turf field and they were just pinging it around us. They are a very technical team. They are very good."
Forward Heather O’Reilly on her role off the bench in this Olympics:
"I think all the subs have done a pretty good job so far coming in and providing fresh legs and energy…I think we are ready to keep contributing. A goal for me is to be myself in this Olympics and not to be scared to do the things I know I can do. Part of my game is going at defenders one-v-one and getting in behind the back line. Sometimes I feel I drift from that in order to not make mistakes, to try to keep possession at the expense of being dangerous, so I hope I can keep focusing on the things I am good at and the reasons why I am here."
O’Reilly on the team’s attitude heading into the Japan game:
"Our attitude as a team is to be the aggressor and it has been for years and years. If we can bring that into the next game, we’ll be tough to beat."
Forward Abby Wambach on what the team learned from the 1-1 tie against Japan in June on a Field Turf surface and in oppressive heat in Louisville, Ky.:
"Most importantly, we were reminded that on any given day, no matter what surface you play on or what the weather is, and no matter how many times you’ve beaten a team, they can score goals on you. That’s what we all remember and that’s great because in the situation we are in now, we have the ability to create our own destiny."
Wambach on the U.S. team’s play so far:
"There has been something missing, whether it’s a change in system or a lineup change, whatever the reasons, we have to figure it out…People have to play on their edge, that’s the type of consistency we need. If we can leave it all on the field, everything else will work itself out. April said it best yesterday. I would rather have our worse games behind us than ahead of us. We have nowhere to go but up and we realize that and know that it will take a little bit more all-around responsibility."
STAT OF NOTE: The USA and Japan have met before in the quarterfinals of a world championship event. The teams squared off in Gavle, Sweden, at the 1995 Women’s World Cup and the USA emerged as 4-0 winners as Kristine Lilly tallied twice.