WWC 3rd place play-off: England

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It’s the game no-one wants to play and it’s two teams no-one picked to have been here. Germany were tipped to win the comp while England were supposed to be knocked-out earlier.

The story so far

England finished runners up in Group F after a 1-0 defeat to France was followed by two much improved performances against Mexico and Colombia.

They were on the verge of being knocked out in the Round of 16 by Norway when two late goals set up a date with hosts Canada in the quarter-final. This time, England scored two early goals and held on for their fourth 2-1 victory of the tournament.

Their semi-final, just the third in the nation’s history, was destined for extra-time but a late own goal ended the Three Lioness’ World Cup and sent Japan through to their second consecutive final.

They’ll beat Germany because…

Not many teams enjoy the prospect of a third-place play-off but England might on this occasion. They were the more energetic out of the two losing semi-finalists and because of the great achievement and progress they’ve made in Canada, you feel they might not be ready to go home yet – at least not until they’ve broken another hoodoo.

England have never won against the Germans and for the most part have been comprehensively beaten. With Germany also licking its wounds after their loss to the USA, this game will be won by the team who reacts the best and we’ve seen all tournament that England are nothing but a strong, reactive team who have risen above every challenge set before them (bar Japan and only by the barest of margins).

The game plan shouldn’t differ too much from the one that almost took the semi-final against Japan into extra-time: closing down Germany’s conductors in midfield, packing the midfield in front of the box and not allowing Celia Sasic room in pockets of space between midfield and defence.

England’s direct style led to more goal opportunities than Japan in their semi and they created three in the second half that should have been taken. They are a huge threat from set pieces. If they can replicate their Japan performance and add some ruthlessness in front of goal, they’re a real chance of an upset.

They’ll lose to Germany because…

Of course, the flip side of the motivational coin is that England’s heartbreaking loss will have given them a psychological barrier to overcome – not even taking into account the physical fatigue they must be feeling after out-running the best technical side in the world for 90 minutes on Thursday. Luckily for them, Mark Sampson is bound the select the fittest eleven possible. But even so, how much impact will that harrowing last-gasp own goal have on the team?

Beating Germany would mean beating a foe that has always had multiple edges over them, in a completely foreign stage of a tournament, after one of the most sickening blows to a team in World Cup history. If England could overcome all of this it would surely rank close to winning the tournament itself.

As it is, they would have a hard time besting the Germans without all of the extra baggage. Their last encounter saw England outclassed 3-0 at Wembley late last year. Celia Sasic scored a brace on that occasion, and will be eager to secure her claim for the golden boot here.

Best moment of the tournament

England’s win over Canada – a historic moment for the team in becoming just the third English team to reach the semi-final of a World Cup. And the achievement on the day wasn’t bad either – beating the host nation who had only conceded one goal since the age of enlightenment with a 55,000-strong crowd at their back.

Key player

Naming a key player on game by game basis for England is akin to guessing lottery numbers but surely, after a standout performance against Japan, surely Toni Duggan will have secured her spot in Mark Sampson’s best eleven. She has looked England’s most consistently threatening forward in the tournament and it would be somewhat of an injustice to see her go home without a goal in a World Cup.

Injuries / suspensions

Nil.

Prediction

Which team will react the best after each’s semi-final loss? I suspect it might be England but I also suspect it won’t be enough to win the match on the day.

2-1 Germany.

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