By Simon Evans
EDMONTON (Reuters) - The Women’s World Cup semi-finals promise more thrills and excitement, bringing together three powerhouses of the game along with surprise package England.
In Montreal on Tuesday, Germany, world champions in 2003 and 2007, take on the United States, triumphant in 1991 and 1999 and winners of the last three Olympic gold medals. Then on Wednesday in Edmonton, defending world champions Japan face an England team that on Saturday upset hosts Canada to reach the last four for the first time.
Tournament organizers -- and perhaps the leaders of FIFA -- may regret that Canada failed to progress and certainly the crowd in Edmonton will be well below the capacity 56,000 that was expected for a semi featuring the host nation. But looked at globally, the last four provides the tournament with a good mix of quality and contrasting styles, along with a decent geographical spread with one team from North America, an Asian team and two European nations.
With Africa and most of South America still playing catch-up in the women’s game, having three different continents in the last four is as good as it could get.
While the success of England, whose FA have become arch-enemies of Sepp Blatter’s FIFA, is hardly likely to have brought cheers to the suits watching from the world governing body’s Zurich headquarters, those working to spread the popularity of the women’s game may have a different view.
England have been relatively slow to catch on to the growing popularity of the women’s game, with the attention paid to their squad and competitions incomparable to the popularity the female version of the sport enjoys in, say, the United States.
The London Olympics in 2012 changed that, with 70,000 crowds watching Britain's team at Wembley, and many old stereotypes about the women’s game were challenged.
Japan are formidable foes though and start as clear favorites. While they needed an 87th minute goal to beat Australia 1-0 on Saturday, the quality of their possession soccer and slick passing have been unmatched at this tournament.
Germany overcame a hugely impressive France in a penalty shootout and their brand of fast, controlled attacking soccer should produce an exciting encounter with a talented and athletic U.S team that finally began to look close to their best in their 1-0 quarter-final victory over China.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Kewn Ferris)