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Women’s World Cup 2023: Semifinals preview

Women’s World Cup 2023: Semifinals preview

Every bold move made for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has paid off, from the decision to expand the number of teams to 32, to the slightly unusual tournament format, wherein the teams from the top half of the draw would only meet those from the bottom half in the final or the third-place playoff.

Whilst ensuring a unique game for the final, there was always a risk of a repeat meeting in the semifinals between teams from the group stages, but that hasn’t happened.

It has been a low-scoring tournament. Overall, once extra time has been included, goals have come at a rate of just 2.51 per game per normal time segments, and just 44% of group games had three or more goals.

That rate has fallen even further in the knockout stages. 42% of games have resulted in three or more goals in regulation time, three have been goalless throughout 120+ minutes, and an average of 2.1 goals have been scored once extra time has been accounted for.

Spain vs. Sweden

Japan have been common opponents for both Spain and Sweden, and they secured a decisive 4-0 victory over the former during the group stages with a display of counterattacking and clinical finishing.

Then, in the quarterfinals, Sweden stifled Japan’s preferred approach by clogging the midfield passing lanes, before hanging on for a 2-1 win as legs tired.

The first semifinal also pitches one of the youngest and most inexperienced squads, Spain - who hadn’t won a World Cup knockout game until last weekend against four-time semifinalists the Netherlands - against Sweden, who boast a squad packed with caps, but are also amongst the oldest players in Australia and New Zealand.

Here’s the age and caps profile for the players who’ve played so far in the tournament for each country.

The vertical scales aren’t the same. For example, Spain’s top-capped player has a “mere” 105 appearances compared to 238 for Sweden. However, what is evident is that the bulk of the Spanish players fall between 21 and 25 years of age. They also lie below the trendline for all players at the tournament, highlighting their relative inexperience even once age is accounted for.

Sweden are the opposite. They are an experienced - or ageing side, if you prefer - and they have a wealth of international experience upon which to draw.

Forward Stina Blackstenius is 27 and has nearly 100 caps, compared to an average of just 40 caps for a typical player of the same age.

Spain opened their campaign with comfortable wins against two of the weakest sides, Costa Rica and Zambia. The blip against Japan was followed by another decisive knockout win against Switzerland, and although extra time was needed to defeat the Netherlands, Spain once again dominated the expected goals contest.

Their 15 goals scored are justified by their quality, and the fact that they have acted on the opportunities they have created. 60% of their expected goals have been generated from open play, so they don’t have a huge reliance on dead ball situations, and they’ve also hit the woodwork on four occasions.

Chance quality is good, with non-penalty expected goals average just over 0.11 xG per attempt, and nearly 30% of scoring opportunities have been taken within 10 ten yards of the target. Defensively, few have been better, and opposition goal attempts have been kept mostly at bay.

Spain have a possession-based game plan. They have dominated the ball in every match, including the loss to Japan, and comfortably attempt the most passes per game, averaging over 70% of the passes attempted in matches.

Sweden have been more flexible in their approach, being content to cede possession if necessary. They haven’t been as creative as Spain, instead choosing to rely much more on dead balls and close range headed attempts, and overall, they only have two thirds of Spain’s expected goals in the same number of minutes. However, the individual quality of each chance they have created has been very good, averaging 0.146 xG per attempt. Where they lose in quantity, they partly make up for in quality.

Arguably, they’ve disposed of bigger names in the knockout games, eliminating the USA on penalties, and tactically constraining a well thought of Japanese team. However, despite conceding fewer goals than Spain, they’ve been less confident, with a poorer expected goals process, and they’ve needed the assistance of the woodwork on three occasions.

Spain have only been beaten five times since 2020 (including one loss in extra time). They entered the competition rated above Sweden, and remain the superior side. Results for both countries since the last World Cup make Spain the favourites with a 46% chance of winning in 90 minutes, with Sweden at 27%, and the same chances for a draw.

There’s a 57% chance the game will have two goals or fewer in 90 minutes, as matches invariably become more cautious nearer to the big prize.

That leaves little in the way of value in either the total goals or match odds, but Sweden +0.5 at 1.892*, bolstered by their knowhow, just about qualifies.

Australia vs. England

An Ashes contest on the soccer field provides a readymade fierce rivalry with the competition for a world title on the line, and that makes this a game for the ages.

England have progressed and remain unbeaten, but they’ve often survived some uncomfortable situations, and have been greatly assisted by a benign schedule.

China, Denmark, and Haiti in the group stage were defeated with a clean sweep of wins, but only a 6-1 win over China was achieved with ease - albeit assisted by lacklustre goalkeeping. A duo of 1-0 wins indicates a lack of a cutting edge, and rather than kicking on, they took that lethargy into the knockout stages.

Lauren James’ red card against Nigeria resulted in a two-game ban for England’s only attacking spark. Progression required a penalty shootout, which was followed by a come-from-behind 2-1 victory, courtesy of a slipshod Colombian defence.

England have created just over half the expected goals of Spain, individual chances have been taken from slightly poorer locations, and they’ve also been more reliant on dead ball situations to generate chances.

Defensively, they’ve conceded a tournament low (for the four remaining sides) of two goals, including one from the spot. However, they are once again overshadowed by Spain in the quantity and quality of chances they’ve allowed the opposition to create.

England’s defensive process doesn’t quite match their actual record, and they too have been indebted to the woodwork on three occasions.

In Mary Earps they have a world class keeper, whose reputation transcends the positioning error for Colombia’s goal, and in Millie Bright they have the tournament’s most accomplished aerial defender.

However, should they ultimately face Spain, they will need to deal with a side who have been creative on the ground and have abundant individual skill.

Australia have also faced adversity. The intended face of the tournament, striker and dual WSL Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr, has been a fleeting presence due to injury. She looked sharp from the bench against France - admittedly against tiring defenders.

Australia needed a penalty to beat the Republic of Ireland, they then lost to Nigeria - England’s near equals in the round of 16 - and an eye-catching 4-0 rout of Canada was inflated by clinical finishing.

Defensively, they are the most vulnerable of the final four teams, allowing 70% more expected goals than England, 16% more goal attempts, and the highest number of aerial scoring chances and chances from dead balls.

Australia have the lowest non-penalty xG of the remaining four teams, and the poorest individual chance quality (0.099 xG per attempt). However, they were the team who broke England’s 30 game unbeaten run (winning 2-0 at Brentford in April), where they capitalized on England’s now familiar sluggishness when in possession, and hit them on the counter - spearheaded by Kerr.

A fit Kerr moves the dial for any side.

The extra wild card is vociferous home support, who have sided with England’s opponents throughout the tournament, and will now rekindle a rivalry that is long, sometimes bitter, and one that spans multiple sports - notably cricket and rugby.

s with the Spain vs. Sweden game, England offer no value as favourites to win in 90 minutes, but there is a shade to be had if taking the Australian side to edge England on the handicap with half a goal at 1.684*.

Outright, those who didn’t take England at the start of the tournament might also consider the hosts to provide a home triumph at 5.0* with Pinnacle.

To follow Mark’s analysis across the tournament, you can find him on Twitter @MarkTaylor0, as well as Pinnacle’s Betting Resources page here.

*Odds subject to change


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