Greetings from a soggy and long-hot-shower humid Workers Stadium, where I've worked up up a pretty impressive sweat 30 minutes before gametime. The U.S. women are set to face Japan in what clearly shaped up as the less impressive semifinal, paling next to the Brazil-Germany matchup that just finished up. Brazil fell down an early goal, then scored four unanswered and should be heavy favorites against the winner of this one, at least based on what we've seen thus far.
Japan was the obvious upstart among the Final Four; German, Brazil and the U.S. have each reached the semifinals of three straight straight world championships. And after the U.S.'s path to the semis included relatively unimpressive one-goal victories over Japan and Canada (in extra time), there's a school of thought that Japan might finally break through the Germany-Brazil-U.S. triopoly in this game. On the other hand, if the U.S. can make it to the finals without the injured Abby Wambach, some will say that this tournament has been acceptable.
As for the crowd: TBD. When we got here there were thousands and thousands of empty seats, and that's not including the thousands of yellow shirt staged "fans," who are already making an unholy racket with their thunderstix. From where I sit (way down low, right on the mid-stripe), it's hard to see significant groups of either American or Japanese supporters, but the place is filling up nicely, and the streets outside were jammed when our bus rolled in. Of course, if China had made it past Japan in the quarters, it'd be a zoo, and some probably bought tickets hoping to see the Chinese here.
The U.S. trots out the same lineup it used against Canada in the quarters. Game-winning goal scorer Natasha Kai is once again on the bench. The Japanese have just one change from their lineup that faced the U.S. in group play, with midfielder Miyuki Yanagita (No. 5) out and Kyoko Yano (No. 14) in.
I really can't emphasize enough how humid it is right now. There are puddles ringing the field, and it feels like we might see some more. The temperature isn't oppressive, but it feels like you could reach out and squeeze water out of the air.
I'll provide updates in the text of this thread as the game progresses; please feel free to add your thoughts below. And while this isn't necessarily humorous at all, it's the rare event here that I actually care about on its own merits, so humor me.
8th minute: The U.S. has both scored and allowed shockingly early goals in this tournament, this time Japan got a corner kick in the first minute and created a quality scoring chance. The U.S. looked disjointed in the midfield and struggled to escape their zone in the first few minutes. The fans are clapping and thundersticking away, although it's tough to tell who they're rooting for.
The U.S. finally showed a bit of life in the 5th minute, with playmaker Carli Lloyd getting a look but failing to seriously test the Japanese keeper. Heather O'Reilly made a run on the ball a minute later, but fell down in traffic just in front of the net.
13th minute: I take back anything I said about the crowd; the place filled up nicely, and is easily the most crowded of any venue I've visited, for a game with no Chinese implications. The wave is in full effect.
The U.S. midfield has settled itself, and is finding seams in the Japanese defense. Lloyd has had luck on both sides. Lori Chalupny just broke free on the left side and blasted an awkward right-footed attempt wide on the near side.
16th minute: Lloyd is everywhere, just breaking up a Japanese chance on the other end. Another Japanese corner.
17th minute: Goal Japan. Kinga sends it through two U.S. players (including between Chalupny's legs), Tarpley keeps Ohno onside, and its a relatively easy finish from right in front of the net. Another first-half deficit. It's Ohno's second goal of the tournament, and the fourth allowed by the Americans.
21st minute: Ohno in space again, launches a diving bid that's saved by Hope Solo diving to her left. Could turn out to be a moment to remember. Suddenly we're up and down with action on both ends.
And the official cheer persons are banging on drums. Pretty good atmosphere here, even if the fans ARE fake. Americans will definitely have their chances in the final third; just a matter of finding a finisher.
26th minute: Dangerous cross by O'Reilly, with Fukumoto coming out to wrap up. U.S. comes right back with more heat, and again it's O'Reilly leading the charge. Amy Rodriguez's shot is harmless, though. How long until we see Kai?
38th minute: Japanese playing their quick-touch possession game outside the box, with Ohno looking crafty. Rodriguez struggling to create on her own. Offense keeps coming unglued several passes short of danger, and needs some sort of spark.
40th minute: And there's that spark, on a long throw from Solo that springs O'Reilly down the right side. She makes a great cross, Rodriguez lets it go through, and Angela Hucles calmly slots it home for her team-leading third of the tournament.
And now it's perfectly clear who the fans are rooting for: massively, overwhelming for the U.S. Booing every time Japan attacks, cheering every U.S. counter.
44th minute: Chalupny goal. Her first of the Olympics. She beat three defenders on a solo trip down the left side, sending a twisting drive over Fukumoto's head.
Halftime: And the crowd offers a big cheer for the Americans as they leave the field. U.S. runs off the field, with plenty of hugs from the bench, while the Japanese slowly trudge off. That's what you call a momentum switch.