Germany towering favorite over Japan in quarters
Germany is towering over Japan in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals with a height advantage nearly as big as the home field advantage.
The sellout crowd of 26,000 will be cheering for the host team Saturday as the 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 used a physical game in the last group game, Japan lost 2-0. Germany, too, is expected to step up with bold challenges.
The winner will meet either Sweden or Australia in Frankfurt in the semifinal Wednesday.
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 anybody less would have been easy, but Prinz is the symbol of German soccer 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,'' Prinz said.
She can count on a substitute appearance at most.
The France win gave the 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 World Cup. ''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 5-foot-9 Kerstin Garefrekes also has two headers on her scoring tally.
In the last game, Germany had one player smaller than 5-foot-7, while Japan only had one player taller.
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 plays its fluent passing game. And why hesitate? It has improved to No. 4 in the world.
''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.
The Germans will be counting on the crowd to boost them, as it did during the three group games. However, captain Hamare Sawa insisted it also may 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.
The Germany coach disagreed.
''The pressure is on both sides,'' Neid said. ''We both want to get to the final four.''