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USA and Japan Bounce Back for Re-Match in Olympic Semifinal

After the USA dropped its Group G opener to Norway by a 2-0 score and Japan also went down by two goals to New Zealand in its first match before scraping back for a draw, no pundits would have predicted that these two teams would meet in one of the Olympic semifinals.

Germany vs. Brazil in the other semifinal? Well, that was pretty predictable. Even after the two powers drew 0-0 in their opening game. And while the battle between the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup finalists will certainly be intriguing and enjoyable to watch, the USA-Japan match may be just as entertaining.

These are two teams on the rise.

The U.S. team has gained strength and confidence since its bizarre first four minutes against Norway, adjusting game-by-game and minute-by-minute to the loss of leading scorer Abby Wambach just before the Olympics while playing some quality attacking, ball-possession soccer so far.

The USA rebounded from its loss to Norway with a professional and deserved 1-0 victory over Japan before pounding New Zealand by a 4-0 score to turn the group on its head.

Of course, Japan had something to do with that as well. The Japanese salvaged their advancement after its disappointing tie with New Zealand (it would be the Kiwis only point of the competition) and the 1-0 loss to the USA, a match in which they were perhaps outplayed in the final two thirds of the field, but certainly put on a show in midfield. Japan’s 5-1 win over Norway in the final group match surprised some, not for their ability to create chances, as Japan has always knocked the ball around well, but for their ability to finish them against a Norwegian team that plays staunch defense.

Both teams then overcame adversity in their quarterfinal match. The USA dominated Canada in every facet of the game except the most important – finishing – but kept pressing until it got the winning goal from Natasha Kai in the 101st minute of overtime. The U.S. attack produced a bushel of good chances as the Americans tired out the Canadians with a vast superiority in possession.

Japan did what everyone who follows the women’s game knows is difficult to do, defeat China in China in front a packed stadium. The Japanese put together a fantastic display of quick and intricate passing in the first half and held off a late China run to win 2-0. The Japanese have scored more goals than any team in the tournament, including seven in their past two games.

The USA and Japan met in the 2004 Olympics, a tight 2-1 U.S. win that featured goals from Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach. This time, the round is one-game deeper and the stakes a little bit higher – a berth in the gold medal match.

The USA and Japan have great a respect for each other with both sides known for playing hard, but fair. With the confidence levels high, and with both countries not only playing well, but attractively, fans turning into the semifinal match at Beijing Workers Stadium on Monday, Aug. 18 at 9 a.m. ET live on MSNBC, Universal HD and the NBC Olympic Soccer Channel are sure to be in for a soccer treat.