By at least one measure, Tuesday’s FIFA Women’s World Cup semifinal in Montreal between Team USA and Germany is the tournament’s de facto championship game.
Germany is ranked No. 1 by FIFA. Team USA is No. 2. The two have traded the top spot back and forth since 2009. Germany has never been rated lower than No. 3 since the rankings began in 2003; the United States was never worse than No. 2.
“It’s the No. 1-ranked team in Germany vs. the No. 2-ranked team in the United States,” U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said. “They’re great in all aspects of the game. They’re organized. They’re hard in defense. They’re hard to break down. And they know how to attack and posses the ball.
“But if we play our game, it doesn’t matter who we play. In the end, we will come out on top.”
Solo’s bravado is nothing new, but it hints of a simmering rivalry between the two teams that have dominated women’s international soccer for more than a decade.
Since 2003, Team USA and Germany have won five of the last six Olympic and Women’s World Cup titles between them. (The exception being the 2011 World Cup, when Japan beat the United States in the final.)
Even with Germany having gone through extra time and penalties against France in its quarterfinal on Friday, U.S. coach Jill Ellis isn’t expecting any edge.
“They’re Germans. It won’t be a disadvantage for them,” she said.
Two factors will be in Team USA’s favor. Germany could be without midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan, who converted her penalty kick attempt for the victory over France, despite a hyper-extended left ankle.
Moreover, the United States will get back Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday; the starting midfielders had to sit out the squad’s 1-0 quarterfinal victory over China because of suspensions due to accumulated yellow cards.
The semifinal will feature the tournament’s best offense in Germany, which has scored 20 goals — nearly twice as many as the next closest team, Switzerland, with 11 — and the tournament’s best defense in the United States, which has allowed only one goal and none in its last four games.
Half of Germany’s goals came in a 10-0 group stage rout over Ivory Coast, while Team USA has nine goals in its five matches.
“In order to get to the final, we’re going to have to play almost impeccable soccer,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said. “We’ve got to finish some chances. We’ve got to create some chances.”
Besides their game of leapfrog in the FIFA rankings, Team USA and Germany have another history together. There have been 29 meetings between the two countries since their first encounter in 1991. Team USA has won 18. Germany has won four, but none since 2003 — in the semifinals of the World Cup that was played in the United States.
Germany did beat Team USA on penalty kicks at the exhibition Algarve Cup in 2006, but penalty kick results are officially considered draws.
Since the penalty kick loss, Team USA is unbeaten in eight games against Germany, but three of the last four games have ended in ties.
This will be the fourth head-to-head meeting in the World Cup, with Team USA beating Germany 5-2 in 1991 and completing a memorable 3-2 quarterfinal victory in 1999 before losing the 2003 semifinal.
The United States and Germany haven’t played against each other in over two years, and only three players remain from the team that last played Germany in a Women’s World Cup (2003) or Olympic Games (2004): Wambach, Christie Rampone and Heather O’Reilly.
And while probably not conjuring any images or comparisons of Argentina-Brazil or Germany-England from the men’s side, Tuesday night’s match will get a chance to add to the growing rivalry between the women’s game’s two undisputed powers.
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.