Semi showdown


NORTH Korea are the only side with four wins from as many games heading into today’s first semifinal.
Coach Hwang Yongbong’s women have been the picture of consistency at the Fifa Under-20 Women’s World Cup, having beaten a slew of genuine contenders in Sweden, Brazil and Spain to be one game away from making their second appearance at an U20 final. The final four pits the tournament’s most clinical and consistent teams, Japan and North Korea, against two enigmatic and talented sides, the US and France, who have willed their way to be on the cusp of a final.
North Korea’s match against the US will provide fans with a contrast in styles but both sides have history to emulate. The Americans have won three World Cups to the North Korean’s single.
Hwang’s side, who have been an unrelenting, almost unstoppable force at the tournament, are the form team of the 2016 edition.
US coach Michelle French knows she has a side of talented individuals but getting them to click quicker as a cohesive group on the day would be the key to her team’s chances.
A last minute 2-1 win over Mexico in the quarterfinals should not be bearing too much on the minds of Mallory Pugh and Ashley Sanchez, two of the Stars and Stripes’ best and the brightest, but another less than dynamic start to the match could prove fatal against North Korea.
In the evening fixture, Japan, who easily accounted for Brazil 3-1 in the quarterfinals, take on the unpredictable French.
France coach Gilles Eyquem gave his side the right mix of tactical nous and tough talk to coax the best performance out of them yet in their courageous 1-0 upset of defending champions Germany in the knockout stages.
Their unpredictable style and their speed and on attack, with whippet Delphine Cascarino one of the players of the tournament, will see the dangerous French pose a threat to the precise and cerebral Japanese at the Sir John Guise Stadium.
It is no secret Cascarino and her crew have been able to find another gear when needed — their 2-2 draw with Ghana and 2-0 win over New Zealand in the group stage showed that indifferent form meant little if you are wearing a blue uniform.
Japan, on the other hand, are coming off a dominating performance over Brazil where coach Asako Takakura’s side shut down the brilliant South Americans and frustrated them while still having the offensive poise to slot in three goals.
That combination of calm and calculated precision football, coupled with their ability to control the tempo of the game, could spell trouble for France.
The opening fixture is at 4pm while the second match is at 7.30pm with a close to sell-out crowd expected at the 15,000-capacity venue.

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