The NWSL semi-finals in USA brought resounding wins by both the reigning champions and the premiers, setting up what will be a much-anticipated season climax. Elsewhere, there were top-of-the-table match-ups and decisive results in both Japan and Germany. Meanwhile in Sweden, Eskilstuna now have one hand on an unexpected title win.
*USA: And then there were two *
The NWSL season is set for a thrilling finale with champions Kansas City and table-toppers Seattle Reign winning though to the decider in emphatic fashion. Seattle Reign continued their superb home form in dispensing with Washington Spirit, though they had to wait until the later stages of the semi-final before confirming their progress. Merritt Mathias hit the woodwork early on, and while the one-way traffic continued for much of the match, it needed goals in the final quarter-hour from Beverly Yanez, Megan Rapinoe and Mariah Bullock to confirm the win. The scoring pattern earlier on Sunday afternoon was quite different as Amy Rodriguez (two) and Erika Tymrak had Kansas three goals clear of Chicago Red Stars by the 35-minute mark. Seattle, who are still hunting their first championship, will start as favourites in the 1 October decider to be played just a couple of hours down the west coast in Portland.
*Japan: Fans flock to see top two *All roads led to Kobe on the weekend as local heroines INAC Leonessa hosted rivals NTV Beleza in a top-of-the-table meeting. The visitors dominated their opponents for lengthy periods and ultimately took all three points thanks to a second-half strike from Mizuho Sakaguchi. It was a result that disappointed most of the 7,000-plus crowd, although INAC remain one point ahead of their conquerors at the top of the table as they seek to regain the crown they relinquished last season for the first time since 2010. Third-placed Vegalta Sendai managed to stay in touch with the front pair, meanwhile, thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Sperenza Osaka.
*Top three: INAC Kobe Leonessa (37 points), NTV Beleza (36), Vegalta Sendai (33) *
*Germany: Heavyweights shape up *Four of Germany’s big teams matched up over the weekend with Bayern Munich and 1. FFC Frankfurt edging crucial 1-0 wins over Wolfsburg and Turbine Potsdam respectively. Champions Bayern saw off 2014 queens Wolfsburg in Bavaria thanks to a first-half strike from their Swiss star Caroline Abbe. European champions Frankfurt have an equal share of top spot - though second on goal difference – after they saw off traditional rivals Turbine with a lone goal from veteran Kerstin Garefrekes. The most entertaining match of the round, however, was surely at Bayer Leverkusen where the home side were finally trumped in the second minute of added time, as SGS Essen’s Charlene Hartmann scored the sealer in a nine-goal thriller.
*Top three: Bayern Munich, 1. FFC Frankfurt (both 9), Wolfsburg, Essen (both 6) *
*Sweden: Upstarts edge closer to glory *Eskilstuna United, promoted to the top flight only in 2014, moved a step closer to an unlikely title win by securing a four-point advantage at the summit. Dynamic Cameroon forward Gaelle Enganamouit scored twice in the first half to help Eskilstuna to all three points at Hammarby on Friday. A day earlier champions Rosengard completely dominated at Kopparbergs/Gothenburg but only came away with a scoreless draw. Third-placed Linkopings were the big scorers of the round as they hit five unanswered goals at AIK.
*Top three: Eskilstuna (43), Rosengard (39), Linkopings (37) *