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Sweden and France aim at final showdown

Published: Tuesday 12 July 2011, 16.30CET
Hosts Germany's reign may be over but a European winner could be guaranteed if Sweden beat Japan and France overcome the United States in Wednesday's semi-finals.
by Paul Saffer
Sweden and France aim at final showdown
Coach Bruno Bini speaks ahead of France's semi-final with the United States ©AFP
Published: Tuesday 12 July 2011, 16.30CET

Sweden and France aim at final showdown

Hosts Germany's reign may be over but a European winner could be guaranteed if Sweden beat Japan and France overcome the United States in Wednesday's semi-finals.

Germany's reign as FIFA Women's World Cup holders is over and past winners Norway are out – but France and Sweden continue their bids to keep the trophy in Europe in Wednesday's semi-finals.

Hosts Germany, victors in 2003 and 2007, fell to Japan on Saturday after extra time, bringing an end to the international careers of stalwarts Birgit Prinz and Ariane Hingst. However, having knocked out Asian champions Australia 3-1 the following day – in the only quarter-final concluded in 90 minutes – 2003 runners-up Sweden set up a Frankfurt tie with Japan (20.45CET), which will follow the Monchengladbach meeting of France and the United States (18.00CET).

If Sunday's success marked the first knockout victory for Sweden under coach Thomas Dennerby in four major tournaments, his talented team had already proved their mettle by winning their group by beating the US 2-1. Although substitute midfielder Nilla Fischer is suspended, Sweden – the only side with a 100% record at these finals – can take huge confidence from their performances spearheaded by Olympique Lyonnais' Lotta Schelin. The striker has kept up her form from Lyon's UEFA Women's Champions League victory, leading the national team in the 'Logobitombo' dance after each goal just as at club level.

Japan will be familiar opponents for UEFA Women's EURO 2013 hosts Sweden, who drew 1-1 with them in Bochum on the eve of the tournament but were beaten 2-1 by the Japanese in March's Algarve Cup. "I know a bit about Japan – we've played them twice this year," Schelin said. "We were confident about reaching the semi-finals but we've been taking small steps, talking about every game as it comes along."

Sweden have already guaranteed themselves competitive football between the World Cup and the EURO finals by qualifying for the Olympics along with France, but Les Bleues' minds are only on their showdown with the US. France needed a late equaliser to take Saturday's game with England to extra time yet, having also come from behind in the shoot-out, they prevailed on penalties to reach their first major semi-final. The US also required spot kicks the next day to put out 2007 runners-up Brazil following Abby Wambach's leveller deep into overtime.

The Americans, coached by Sweden great Pia Sundhage, hope to move one ahead of Germany in the all-time rankings by becoming the first nation to win three World Cups, but will be missing defender Rachel Buehler through suspension. France coach Bruno Bini has a full squad available, though is well aware his side are underdogs.

"They are the number one nation in the FIFA rankings," Bini said. "They have 2.5 million club players, which makes it easier to find 21 than when you have 55,000 club players to choose from. But you're not [2010] European U19 champions, [2009] European quarter-finalists and World Cup semi-finalists without being competent in some way."

Last updated: 13/07/11 15.00CET

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