Germany favoured to beat Japan in World Cup quarter-final
Germany is the towering favourite over Japan in the Women's World Cup quarter-finals with a height advantage possibly counting as much as the home advantage.
The sellout crowd of 26,000 in Wolfsburg 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 anybody less 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 count on a substitute appearance at most.
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 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 the 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 than 5-foot-7, Grings, and she scored on a header. Japan only had one taller than 5-foot-7.
Japan has no choice but to plays its fluent passing game. And why hesitate? It has improved to the world No. 4 ranking and earned flattering comparisons as the women's Barcelona.
"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.