Olympic Preview: France, United States meet in Group G match

Alex Morgan Goal vs FRA

By TOM SLATER

For all intents and purposes, the United States match with France Saturday will decide who will win Group G in the Rio 2016 Summer Games. And even though both the United States and France are expected to go through no matter what the result Saturday, winning Group G allows that team a huge advantage.

Winning the group would grant them a match against a third-place team in the quarterfinal knockout round and then a match most likely against the Sweden/Brazil winners. It would also avoid Germany until the final and put France in the same bracket with the Germans.

Both teams won their Olympic opening matches with relative ease. The United States eased into Rio 2016 with a workmanlike 2-0 win over physical New Zealand and the French decimated Colombia, 4-0, in the second match of the doubleheader at Belo Horizonte.

The two met last February in the inaugural SheBelieves Cup with the Americans winning, 1-0, on a spectacular stoppage time goal from Alex Morgan. Four years ago, the two met in the opening round of group play. France took a 2-0 lead early in the 2012 London Games but the United States came back on a key goal from Carli Lloyd and two from Morgan.

They’ve never won a major tournament, but France enters the Olympics ranked third in the FIFA rankings –a spot they’ve held for two years.  They bring to Brazil a veteran team that includes six of the top 10 goals scorers in French history. The most prominent name is Lousia Necib but Elodie Thomas and Eugenie LeSommer also need to be watched. Camille Abily and Elise Bussaglia help Necib control the midfield, which is the strength of the French side.

The United States team was in transition after the retirement of a half dozen players from last summer’s World Cup. Jill Ellis has constructed a roster that combines experience with youth, speed and aggressiveness, yet one that plays more of a possession game designed to expose areas behind the defense.

The American midfield and striker corps will counter France with the duo of Morgan and Lloyd, the goal-scorers from Wednesday. Both appear fully recovered from injuries suffered over the spring and looked healthy against New Zealand. Morgan Brian, Allie Long, Tobin Heath and the young Mallory Pugh will have to be sharp to counter the French midfielders.

Defensively, the United States is solid. The back four of Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston and Kelley O’Hara have jelled together and have played as a unit since Olympic Qualifying. And, of course, Hope Solo has 101 international shutouts in her career — the most of any goalkeeper in the world.

The match is worthy of a final. And it may be a final in two weeks. But Saturday evening, the match is simply for the right to win the group and get a significantly better road to the gold.


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