Women's World Cup England face Japan for final spot

England’s women’s football team has always been overshadowed by the men’s side, but the females are in the spotlight now and could become household names if they can win their next two games.

The women have matched their male counterparts from 1966 and 1990 by reaching the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. The 1966 men’s side won the World Cup, while the 1990 team went out in the semifinals.

Mark Sampson’s side beat hosts Canada 2-1 in Vancouver on Saturday to unexpectedly reach the semis in this tournament for the first time.

Against Canada, England took the lead through a Jodie Taylor shot and Lucy Bronze header before Christine Sinclair pulled one back soon after. Despite concerted pressure by Canada, England held out for a historic win.

Sampson said he was pleased with their “show of resilience and character.” England now face reigning champions Japan in the second semifinal on Wednesday. It’s a tough one but Sampson is undeterred. He believes they can reach the final and become champs.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is president of the Football Association, former England captain David Beckham and current men’s skipper Wayne Rooney were among those who congratulated the women.

England defender Casey Stoney, who has 121 caps, is enjoying her third World Cup. She said the spirit in the camp is “incredible” and the best she’s ever experienced.

Stoney added that some of the senior players like Fara Williams and Katie Chapman are just as delighted as the novices.

England’s self-belief is boosted by the fact that they beat Japan in the group stage of the 2011 World Cup before the Japanese went on to become champs. Not the powerhouse they were previously, Japan hope that this match, which is in Edmonton, does not go to form because England will start as favorites.

Bronze, 23, is a Manchester City defender. She is England’s joint top scorer at the World Cup with two goals. She made her England debut against Japan in a friendly two years ago.

Bronze is anxious to continue her scoring run after also hitting the winner in the last-16 game against Norway.

Japan knocked out Australia with a late goal to reach the semifinals. Substitute Mana Iwabuchi scored from close range in the 87th minute for the 1-0 victory.

The Japanese team, aka Nadeshiko, failed to capitalize on their chances until Iwabuchi’s strike in Edmonton.

Shinobu Ohno missed a couple of scoring opportunities in the first half. Captain Aya Miyama also came close with a long range shot in the 33rd minute that was pushed over the bar by Aussie keeper Lydia Williams.

The other semifinal is U.S. against Germany, being played on Tuesday.

The Germans are tournament favorites and hope to emulate their male counterparts who won the World Cup last summer.

The U.S. beat China 1-0 in their quarterfinal and are by no means a pushover. The U.S. and Germany are the only teams in the history of the Women’s World Cup with two titles, so the Americans have plenty of pedigree too.

Germany are No. 1 in the FIFA rankings list and they have a long and enviable record of winning vital matches. Germany have never ranked lower than No. 3 and qualified for all seven Women’s World Cups and have a 27-4-6 win-draw-loss record in the tournament, winning the title in 2003 and 2007.

Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer is the longest serving German player, in the squad since 1996. This is 36-year-old Angerer’s third Women’s World Cup. She, like many, is outspoken about the artificial surfaces the entire Women’s World Cup tournament is being played on, labelling the surfaces as “concrete.” Midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan is certainly Germany’s best player.

The Americans have surprised many with their consistency throughout the tournament, playing fluid, entertaining football and restricting the opposition to rare scoring opportunities, only conceding one goal so far.

Carli Lloyd, the creative 32-year-old midfielder, scored the goal against China. Her flair and penetrating passing will be vital against the Germans.

The U.S.’s leading striker is Abby Wambach, their most accomplished player. Alex Morgan is vital too, as is Megan Rapinoe, the team’s most innovative and exciting player. But Wambach started on the bench Friday, Rapinoe sat out with a suspension, and Morgan does not look completely recovered from a leg injury.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis was shrewd to give Lloyd a free reign. A frustrated Lloyd vented her feelings last week after a series of personal and team below par performances, even claiming that every player can improve and the coaches too. That outburst certainly worked.