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the US goalkeeper Hope Solo will look to shut out Louisa Necibís France.
the US goalkeeper Hope Solo will look to shut out Louisa Necibís France.

Remaining women's World Cup teams have it all to play for

After their astonishing comeback against Brazil, the United States are the favourites, but three formidable opponents: France, Japan and Sweden, stand in their way.

After their astonishing comeback against Brazil in the quarter-finals, the United States are the favourites to win the women's World Cup, but three formidable opponents stand in their way.

The US, the world's No 1 ranked team, scored a last-minute, extra time equaliser against Brazil and then won on penalties. With Germany, the hosts, also falling in the quarter-finals, it means the No 2 and No 3 teams in the world are out of the equation.

However, the US now face France, No 7 in the world and packed full of players from Champions League winners Lyon. In today's other semi-final, Sweden, the 2003 finalists ranked No 5 in the world, face Japan, who are one ranking spot above them.

The Americans - who have never failed to qualify for the tournament and were twice champions (1991 and 1999) - have not been at their best so far, but Pia Sundhage, their coach, believes her side's strong past record has proved helpful when they are in a tight corner.

"One of the advantages of the United States team is that we have been winning gold, silver and bronze medals since 1991," said the Sweden-born coach.

"This is something when we're pushed into a corner we can look back at but be humble about as well." The US have had a day less than France to prepare after their draining epic against Brazil on Sunday.

They also have the oldest team in Germany. However, Bruno Bini, the France coach, believes his side will still have to call on all their giant-killing skills to reach the final.

In contrast to the US, France failed to get past the group stages in their only previous appearance on the world stage in 2003.

"They are the No 1 nation in the Fifa rankings. They have 2.5 million club players. It's sure that it's easier to find 21 [squad players] than when you have 55,000 club players to chose from," Bini said. "But you're not Under 19 European champions, European quarter-finalists and World Cup semi-finalists without being competent in some way."

Laura Georges, a defender and one of the French squad's 10 Lyon players, believes France have a fighting chance.

"They [the US] are solid, tactically very well organised and athletically very strong. We're going to really test ourselves on that level. They have a real athletics culture. But everything is to play for as it is in every match," she said.

In the other semi-final, Sweden are wary of Japan after a 1-1 draw in a pre-World Cup friendly.

"We don't have very good memories of playing against them," Thomas Dennerby, the Sweden coach, said. "Our players will work hard to go one step farther."

Japan's team say they are using the memory of the devastation March's tsunami caused in the country to inspire them.

"We want to show the people in the world that we are grateful," Norio Sasaki, the Japan coach, said.

* Compiled by The National staff

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