July 24, 2012
By Michael Lewis
USA, Spain will reign, earn the gold
GLASGOW -- The American women have plenty of motivation in the Olympic soccer tournament.
They still are smarting from last year's disappointing finish, losing to Japan in penalty kicks in the Women's World Cup final and they want to extend their streak of winning gold medals to three consecutive competitions, which would be the best for men or women.
Well, add another motivating factor: avoiding the Japanese in the quarterfinals. You don't want to meet a powerhouse team such as Japan that early in a competition, especially when you have such high hopes and aspirations on winning the tournament.
The second place team in Group G will meet the Group E winner. Japan is the favorite to capture Group E, while the United States is favored to win Group G. If one of those teams should finish second and the other first, well, the Olympic tourney will get a quarterfinal for the ages -- pitting two teams that should play for the gold medal on Aug. 9. You donít want to expend that much energy so early in the knockout rounds.
So, when the Americans meet the French at Hampden Park on Wednesday, the U.S. faces a must-win situation to grab as many points as possible.
OK, saying that, assuming teams play to form, don't have any (or few) surprises and stay away from major injuries (now how many times does that happen?), this is how one writer looks at the men's and women's soccer tournament:
Brazil and Great Britain, in that order, should qualify from Group E.
Likewise for Japan, Canada and Sweden in Group F (the top two teams from each group qualify as do the two best third-place finishers).
The U.S., France and Sweden, in that order, should move on from Group G.
In the quarters, the U.S. will top Sweden, Japan get past France (even though the French posted a 2-0 win over the Asians on their own soil in the past week), Brazil will defeat North Korea and Great Britain, thanks to home-field advantage, will find a way to survive against a tough Canadian side (Christine Sinclair is good, but she needs more support).
In the semifinals, I'll take the U.S. squeaking past Great Britain in extratime and Japan beating Brazil.
And in the final, I see the U.S. making it three gold medals in a row (and four out of five since the women's soccer was added to the Summer Games in 1996.
The gut feeling is the U.S. women are on a mission, a challenge that started when they lost to Japan a little more than a year ago. They have a different look on attack with speedster Alex Morgan teaming with Abby Wambach up front and a slightly revamped midfield and defense.
This competition isn't as complicated as the women's tournament because the top two sides from each of the four groups will advance. So, Uruguay and Great Britain (in that order) will clinch knockout-round berths from Group A, Mexico and South Korea from Group B, Brazil and Belarus (man, talk about a lame group except for the South Americans) in Group C and Spain and Japan in Group D.
In the quarterfinals, Uruguay will best Korea, Spain will defeat Belarus, Brazil will vanquish Japan and Great Britain will get past the Mexicans.
In the semifinals, Brazil will top Uruguay in a battle of South Americans sides, and Spain will stop Great Britain in an all-European semifinal.
And in the final (drum roll, please), Spain will reign over Brazil. Yes, a lot has been made that the Brazilians have never won a gold medal and that they have made this their top priority. They might have stars such as Neymar on their team, but this is Spain's time -- again. The Spaniards are going through a special era, having won the Euro crown in 2008 and last month, the 2010 World Cup and the UEFA Under-21 championship last year.
Spanish soccer has come of age at all levels.
A special era, indeed.