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France-USA: Five things to watch

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany – The United States' charge toward World Cup glory has inspired the support of one grateful nation back home – and another one at the scene of their success.

Head coach Pia Sundhage's players have been effectively adopted by host nation Germany as its team of choice following the Germans' shocking quarterfinal loss to Japan.

During the Americans' thrilling penalty shootout win over Brazil last Sunday, the crowd in Dresden was firmly behind the Americans with chants of "U-S-A" and boos and jeers for the opposition coursing around the stadium.

The attitude and never-say-die spirit of the squad means that the fans at Borussia Park in Moenchengladbach are also expected to be strongly in their corner, a situation welcomed by a team that conducts its business the right way and is now getting plaudits for it.

The crowd factor tops our list of five things to watch in Wednesday's do-or-die semifinal against France.

1. Home away from home

Ali Krieger called it "amazing." Heather O'Reilly insisted it was "an appreciation of our professionalism and class." Christie Rampone just hopes it will continue "right until the moment we lift the trophy."

Either way, the way Germany is getting behind the U.S. women is more than an interesting tale. It could be a significant factor in the outcome of the tournament.

"It is a huge advantage to have," said Krieger, a defensive midfielder who has spent four seasons playing in Germany for FFC Frankfurt. "Not many teams get to enjoy that kind of support away from home and it definitely spurs you on."

Look out for: A loud pro-USA crowd. With the match being played in the west of Germany there should be a reasonable contingent of French fans in attendance. However, the story of the USA has captured the hearts and minds of the German public and the crowd at Borussia Park will be strongly pro-American. With France never having made it this far in a World Cup before, all eyes will be on their players to see how they handle the extra pressure, and a crowd that will be firmly against them.

2. Abby's encore

The last time Abby Wambach took the field, she scored one of the most important goals in U.S. soccer history. That is a pretty tough act to follow.

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Related: Abby Wambach gets own tribute video]

Irrespective of her magical 122nd-minute header, though, Wambach's overall performance last Sunday showed that she is back in form after a slow start to the tournament.

Look out for: Wambach's air assault. Wambach's long-standing Achilles injury is still bothering her, so don't expect any explosive lightning runs. Instead, watch for the USA to target a repeat of Wambach's clutch header with aerial balls being pumped in from the wings.

3. The female Zidane

Analogies of the "female (insert male superstar's name)" are mildly insulting, but France's Louisa Necib doesn't mind being the female equivalent of French legend Zinedine Zidane. So neither will we.

The talented playmaker has been the heart and soul of France's effort so far and may need to play the game of her life if she is to lift her side past an American squad that is brimming with confidence.

Look out for: Necib getting Boxx'ed in. Shannon Boxx is likely to be given the task of shutting Necib down and can be expected to cut down her freedom of movement wherever possible. If it looks like Necib has a shadow following her everywhere around the Borussia Park, that will be Boxx.

[Related: German businessman smitten with Hope Solo]

4. Buehler's day off

Rachel Buehler's debatable red card against Brazil means she is suspended for Wednesday's clash. Becky Sauerbrunn is expected to deputize as Buehler's replacement.

Sauerbrunn has had limited experience with the national team but is a tough tackling and tenacious character who should be able to plug the hole in the U.S. defense if she is in top form.

Look out for: USA's central defense. Captain Christie Rampone is in her last World Cup and is desperate to go home with a winner's medal. Watch for her to be a steadying presence if Sauerbrunn has any early nerves in the semifinal.

5. Brazil burnout

While the spectacular nature of the victory over Brazil enthralled the American public and sent a wave of energy throughout the team, the fact remains that, come game time, the U.S. will be just three days removed from 120 minutes of physically and mentally exhausting action.

Sundhage insisted on Tuesday that her squad is fit and determined enough to cope with the workload against France, which was also taken to extra time and a PK shootout in its quarterfinal triumph over England. The French, however, have enjoyed an extra day's rest.

Look out for: A fast France start. Instead of waiting for the USA to tire, France coach Bruno Bimi knows his side's best chance might be to hit the Olympic champs hard and early. Expect energy and aggression from the French from the outset as they seek to exploit any rusty American legs.

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