U.S. expects struggle against Brazil in W. Cup semis

TIANJIN, China &

United States coach Greg Ryan is bracing for Brazil. He knows the rough semifinal will be smoothed only a bit by the artistry of Marta, the game's best female player.

The Americans have ambitions for a third World Cup title, following ones in 1991 and '99. Brazil is in the semifinals for the second time, matching its run in 1999.

"I believe finally we will add one more star on our jersey," Daniela said, a reference to the men's team, which has won a record five World Cups. "We will finally get the World Cup."

The Americans, top-ranked and undefeated in 51 games, advanced Saturday by beating England 3-0 on goals by Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx and captain Kristine Lilly.

Brazil won its quarterfinal Sunday at the Women's World Cup, defeating Australia 3-2 on Cristiane's goal in the 75th minute, a rising drive from 20 yards off rapid-fire passes from Marta and Daniela.

Germany defeated North Korea 3-0 that day, putting the defending champions into a semifinal Wednesday against Norway and ensuring that three former champions will be playing in the final four.

Norway beat host China 1-0 on Sunday in Wuhan before a crowd of 52,000 that stayed until the end, waving flags and lighting flares as the Chinese made a last offensive push.

Brazil figures to be quick and tricky Thursday when it meets the United States in Hangzhou, the last step to the final Sunday in Shanghai.

The U.S. defeated Brazil 2-0 three months ago in New York, a physical game played without Marta. The Americans also defeated Brazil in the 2004 Olympic final &

2-1 in extra time &

and 2-0 in a group game in the Olympics.

"Brazil's primary tactic was fouling us to break our rhythm," Ryan said, referring to the game three months ago. "We had more of the ball, and their response to that was just to foul. Brazil has tried to break our rhythm by chopping our players down."

"The last time we played Brazil, they didn't even try to play football &

they just kicked us from behind," Ryan added.

Still, Ryan is fully aware that Brazil can play. In some respects, the women mirror the style of the famed men's teams led over the years by Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. They also go by a single name, fashioning goals by duping defenders with backheel passes and start-and-stop fakes while hovering over the ball.

"I'm going to do whatever I can to request that we get a referee who understands the difference between a reckless foul and a hard challenge," said Ryan, a former defender himself.

Marta is the 2006 women's world player of the year, and the rest of the lineup isn't far behind with striker Cristiane and other up-front players like Daniela, Formiga and Maycon.

"They are all very creative," said U.S. defender Stephanie Lopez, who played against Brazil in New York.

"Sometimes it's not very traditional, but it's very effective. Their offense is very special."

The Americans' best result of the tournament came against an England team that might have been weaker than any of the other squads in the U.S. group &

North Korea, Sweden and Nigeria. The game turned on three goals in 12 minutes early in the second half.

"I think we've got another gear," Ryan said. "The concern isn't peaking; the concern is winning the next game. I think they can play even better but whether we see it or not just depends on the game, our opponent."

The United States is undefeated in 51 games, winning mostly in this tournament with defense, set plays and four goals from striker Abby Wambach.

"Every game we've been rising and rising," Boxx said. "We've defended so well in this tournament and now the possession part is coming."

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