Kick back and get ready for some serious soccer action. The next two weeks should serve as fine barometers for who the favorites should be heading into the London Olympics women’s soccer tournament.
Fourth-ranked Brazil faces off with world No. 7 Canada at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Saturday to kick-off an absolute dandy of a stretch of friendlies amongst the world’s top teams.
The next two weeks will see five games that pit the world’s top seven teams against each other. It’s a stretch of games largely uncommon in the women’s game outside of major tournaments, particularly for the likes of Brazil, a team notorious for sitting idle between World Cups and Olympic Games.
The schedule of high profile matches is as follows:
March 24 – Canada v. Brazil; Foxborough, Mass.
March 31 – Canada v. Sweden; Malmö, Sweden
April 1 – USA v. Japan; Sendai, Japan
April 3 – USA v. Brazil; Chiba, Japan
April 5 – Brazil v. Japan; Kobe, Japan
Talk about a treat. There is more than likely two – maybe even all three – teams in that group which will end up on the podium in London on August 9 in Wembley Stadium, meaning these matches serve as measuring sticks for every involved party. (Side note: Don’t sleep on France. As I have said, I strongly believe Les Bleues are due for at least a bronze medal in London.)
For Canada, the matches against Brazil and Sweden provide top level tests to see just how legitimate of a medal contender our friends to the north are. The Canadians bombed out of the 2011 World Cup quite embarrassingly, which naturally serves as motivation for London. But until they reassert themselves against the top teams in the world (which didn’t happen in January against the United States), they are outsiders looking in on Olympic medals.
Brazil is back under the direction of Jorge Barcellos, who coached the team from 2006-2008. Brazil settled for the silver medal in 2008, falling 1-0 to the U.S. in the final on an extra time goal from Carli Lloyd. If Brazil actually gets some time together this spring, Barcellos’ squad could finally claim a major trophy instead of looking like a compilation of some of the world’s best players who cannot get on the same page.
Those games in Japan are pretty juicy match-ups, too. USA-Brazil needs little explanation (see high stakes match-ups 2004, 2007, 2008, oh yeah, and that really dramatic quarterfinal you might have seen in the 2011 World Cup).
Now, USA-Japan is suddenly a fledgling rivalry. In 25 meetings leading into last year’s World Cup (including two just months prior), Japan was 0-22-3 against the U.S. But the Nadeshiko have since won two-straight: The all-important World Cup final (in PK’s) and the recent Algarve Cup group stage match that was a essentially a tournament semifinal.
On a related note, fans should see their beloved ladies back in the States soon enough. Steve Davis has some details on potential USWNT matches – one on either May 26 or May 27 and another in late June or early July – in his post over on NBC’s Pro Soccer Talk.
See you in Foxborough on Saturday.
Speaking of Japan…
Sky Blue FC is getting the royal treatment on its tour there. The sort-of-WPS team lost 2-1 to INAC Kobe – the famous club that Japanese icon Homare Sawa calls home – but did so in front of an enthusiastic 7,300 people. I was told that about 50 Japanese journalists made the trip to Portugal to cover the Algarve Cup. Clearly, Japan has gone (women’s) soccer crazy, which is great to see. Much like the situation in the United States, the key now is making that last.
Also worth a read…
This ESPN.com interview with Hope Solo, where the American goalkeeper gives a clearly less than stellar review of Women’s Professional Soccer’s three year existence and says, “I wish I remained in Europe.”