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London 2012 Olympics

Preview: Friday’s Olympic Quarterfinals

Hope Solo and Nicole Barnhart

Less than 12 hours remain until the real fun begins in the Olympic tournament. All four quarterfinal matches will be available to watch online, on NBC Sports Network, and on the NBC Olympic Soccer channel. Equalizer Soccer will also have recaps of all four of Friday’s elimination matches.

7:00 AM EST: Sweden vs. France

Bruno Bini might have to keep bemoaning the lack of accolades for his French side, since of the four quarterfinal matches, this one could get the least attention. While France is a popular pick for the gold medal match (despite what Bini might claim), the three other games are very likely to create bigger storylines.

With Sweden coming off a 2-2 draw to Canada, things do not get any better for them in facing Les Bleues. They’ll have to overcome the memories of two deflating goals from Melissa Tancredi and play proactive football. Sweden certainly won’t move onto the semifinals if they continue their cautious defense that shuts off Lotta Schelin from the flow of play entirely.

With all eyes on Elodie Thomis to see if she earns the start tomorrow, expect France to move onto the semifinals in their usual solid fashion. At this point, Bini should embrace being the quiet dark horse to unseat the Americans.

9:30 AM EST: United States vs. New Zealand

New Zealand will go into this match riding a huge wave of emotion and, like the friendly in Dallas, will have to pounce on the smallest of mistakes made by the United States. This time, Kelley O’Hara is unlikely to gift them with any unfortunate passes, as her conversion to defense can at this point safely be declared a success.

The US enters the knockout rounds determined to make it to Wembley Stadium, and it’s unlikely that New Zealand makes it to the semifinals in their place. New Zealand did keep their two losses in the group stages very close, only losing by a goal in each. The scoreline could be very similar tomorrow. If New Zealand isn’t able to shut down Alex Morgan, however, the margin could be much higher. Look for Megan Rapinoe to once again be a difference maker in this match, coming off a full half of rest in the North Korea game.

The potential for a showdown in the semifinals between the US and Team GB should excite any fan of women’s soccer. It’s only unfortunate that the two most solid teams so far are unable to meet in the gold medal match.

12:00 PM EST: Brazil vs. Japan

As promising a match as Great Britain vs. Canada is shaping up to be, Brazil vs. Japan will be the match of the day. All the storylines in the past few days are leading up to this one, between the admission that Japan played South Africa to a draw and Brazil’s complaints about their transportation to play Team GB. Brazil continues to play with a chip on its collective shoulder, and they will still be smarting from their defensive breakdowns that allowed Team GB to capitalize with their early goal.

There’s no easy answer to which team will end up in the semifinals. It simply depends on if Japan is able to take full advantage of their set plays and Andreia’s endless rebounds, or if Brazil is able to demolish Japan’s careful possession game and allow their offense (specifically, Marta and Cristiane) to do what it does best.

This is the game with the largest potential to go into extra time, or even penalty kicks. If that’s the case, expect to see Japan in the next round.

2:15 PM EST: Great Britain vs. Canada

Despite Canada’s stellar comeback against Sweden in their last match of the group stages, Team GB might be too much for Canada to overcome. Great Britain arguably played the best soccer of the group stages and have so far definitively been the best team at creating scoring plays through consistent build-up. Kim Little is taking full advantage of her international platform, and Stephanie Houghton’s goals have been highlight-worthy. And then, of course, there’s Kelly Smith.

Meanwhile, Canada has two dangerous playmakers in Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi. The injuries to this team can’t be ignored and will start to play more of a role in the knockout round. A victory is within reach for Canada, but they will have to raise the bar even higher than the one they set in their match against Sweden to knock out a determined host country.

There’s simply more on the line for Team GB. The scoreline will be close, and an early goal could once again decide the match.


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