Germany towering favorite over Japan in quarters

Germany is the towering favorite over Japan in the Women’s World

Cup quarterfinals with a height advantage possibly counting as much

as the home advantage.

The sellout crowd of 26,000 will be cheering for the host team

on Saturday as the whole nation has done since the tournament

started two weeks ago. And with its penchant for lethal headers,

Germany should have a distinct advantage over the much smaller

Japanese.

The Asian side is renowned for passing combinations and

quickness. But when England went physical on them in the last group

game, Japan lost 2-0. Germany, too, is expected to step in with

bold challenges.

The winner will meet either Sweden or Australia in Frankfurt in

Wednesday’s semifinals.

Germany has won its three group games and has improved after a

hesitant start. Its breakthrough game was a 4-2 win over France,

when coach Silvia Neid benched Germany’s all-time World Cup star

Birgit Prinz after two bad outings.

Replacing a lesser player would have been easy, but Prinz is the

symbol of German football and the driving force behind its 2003 and

2007 World Cup wins.

Once Neid did so, the team gelled, and played with abandon.

”There is no reason to change up front, since we scored four

goals,” acknowledged Prinz.

She can likely count on no more than a substitute appearance,

but Neid insisted on the eve of the match: ”I like surprises, so

maybe.”

The France win gave the whole team a boost ”because of the way

we played, what we brought on stage,” said Cecilia Okoyino Da

Mbabi, who has two goals in the tournament. ”It gave us the

feeling and security that we finally found our touch.”

Prinz’s replacement Inka Grings scored twice, one with a header.

And the 1.8-meter (5-foot-9) tall Kerstin Garefrekes also has two

headers on her scoring tally. It shows the danger Japan faces.

In the last game, Germany had one player smaller that 1.7 meters

(5-foot-7), Grings, and she scored on a header. Japan only had one

taller than 1.7 meters.

But size doesn’t matter that much, insisted Neid.

”They have great timing for the ball,” she said. ”This will

count, not their length.”

Japan has no choice but to play its fluent passing game. And why

hesitate? It has risen to the No. 4 ranking and earned flattering

comparisons as the women’s equivalent of the Barcelona team.

”We will play the Japanese way and we will be able to win,”

said coach Norio Sasaki.

Da Mbabi was already taking lessons on how Germany overcame the

skills of the French.

”We cannot let them develop their game, so we have to put early

pressure on them and interfere,” she said.

They will be counting on the crowd to boost them, as it did

during the three group games. Captain Hamare Sawa insisted however

it would also count against them.

”They have to win. They are the host. We are just a challenger,

so I don’t really feel pressure,” Sawa said.

Neid didn’t fall for such tactics. ”The pressure is on both

sides. We both want to get to the final four.”