U.S. confident ahead of clash with Brazil
DRESDEN, Germany -- Dresden is a city of green. Navigating away from the habitual isolation of the airport and into its heart, numerous trees line the streets. The soothing scene is interrupted only by the occasional passing of yellow trams; a sign reading "erotic car wash" looks well out of place.
The day before the U.S. faces Brazil in a sold-out encounter that the teams, their fans and most neutrals didn't want this early at the Women's World Cup, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage was a picture of calm, too. Dresden, formerly part of East Germany, just south of Berlin and even closer to the Czech Republic, wasn't the reason. Sundhage is always calm.
"What I know is that we are prepared," she said at a press conference at Sunday's quarterfinal venue, the Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion, pleasingly located near the center of town. "The players and team are in a very good place."
Three days after predicting her side would reach next weekend's final -- now that was out of character -- there were no bold statements from the head coach Saturday.
Yet Sundhage must be bubbling inside, if only a tad. The pressure is on the Swede, since a defeat against Marta & Co. would mean elimination before the semifinals at the World Cup, a first for the U.S., and thus have a fair few calling for her head.
"In this job, you're under pressure all the time," Sundhage said. "In order to survive, you have to love it and embrace it."
U.S. Approach Against Brazil
It's easy to get sucked in when Brazil is on the field. The Brazilians' control and dribbling are outstanding, while flair is a given, especially when Marta is on the ball.
Abby Wambach knows the U.S. can't afford to get drawn into the Samba Queens' style of play when two powerhouses meet in the World Cup quarterfinals.
"It's going to be a matter of playing our game, trying to capitalize on chances we create and not get into the game Brazil wants us to play, which is a physical, emotional, passionate game," Wambach said at a press conference. "We need to be smarter, we need to be tactical, and obviously technical when it comes to finishing chances. We want to lessen the times Marta has runs on goal."
Brazil, under coach Kleiton Lima, employs an unorthodox 3-4-3 formation, which might overpower the U.S. in waves or lead to a flurry of opportunities on the counterattack. Perhaps both.
"If we come out strong and fighting for that first goal early on, we'll be in a good position," said midfielder Carli Lloyd, who like Wambach has made more than 100 appearances with the national team. "We'll have to weather that storm in the beginning."
Sundhage's decision-making has already been questioned this tournament, most notably in sticking with Amy LePeilbet, who is used to playing in central defense, at left back. LePeilbet struggled against North Korea and Colombia before her form took a further dip against Sweden. In that game, she gave away a penalty and was lucky not to be sent off. A Sweden free kick later found the net by deflecting off her leg. Mind you, she has often had too much space to cover, given Lauren Cheney's propensity to wander in front of her.
The smart money against Brazil is that Sundhage replaces LePeilbet with the more capped Stephanie Cox, who played the second half against Sweden. Cox had little trouble.
Sundhage didn't give anything away on Saturday. "We're going to discuss if we're going to make changes or not," she said.
Alongside Sundhage sat Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, who figure to play key roles. While the U.S. has depth, with six players scoring goals in this tournament, Wambach hasn't really got going. She finally hit the target against Sweden thanks to a ball that caromed off her shoulder and into the goal. Wambach missed much of this international season with an Achilles injury, which also made her status against Sweden questionable. In the end, she contested all 90 minutes. Will she have anything left after playing three times in about a week?
"Right now I'm 100 percent," Wambach said. "I'm physically ready to go. It's just the pain threshold deal, and unless Pia takes me off the field, I want to be there the whole 90 minutes."
Central midfielders Lloyd and Shannon Boxx were outclassed by the Swedes in the first half, but came to life in the second as the Scandinavians tired. The American pairing will look to, among other things, cut off the supply line to Marta and Brazil's two other formidable forwards, Cristiane and Rosana. The U.S. will also receive a boost from returning right-side midfielder Heather O'Reilly from a groin injury, assuming she's fully fit.
"Heather practiced today, and she looked good," Sundhage said.
While Sundhage wouldn't dwell on the identity of her left back, there's no uncertainty about the keeper. Hope Solo, famously omitted in a 4-0 loss to Brazil in the 2007 semifinals, has never been beaten by Marta.
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And if Cheney can rediscover the form she exhibited in the opening two games, the Brazilians, who have somehow kept three consecutive clean sheets, won't have the luxury of consistently pressing forward.
"Brazil has fantastic individual talent, and they've proven over the years that they're capable of winning games, beating us in fact in big tournaments," Wambach said. "It could be the difference of an inch here, toe-poke there. I'm excited to see what's going to happen tomorrow. I believe in the end we have the best chance of winning."
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.
2011 Women's World Cup
2011 champion: Japan
Topics: Women's World Cup