- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2011

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY (AP) - Host nation Germany has a favorable path toward the women’s World Cup final as it looks for an unprecedented third straight title.

Brazil and the United States play each other in perhaps the most intriguing quarterfinal matchup in Dresden on Sunday, and Germany will not have to meet the winner unless both make the final.

The Germans still face a tough task against fourth-ranked Japan in Wolfsburg on Saturday.

Germany has a “good chance of winning”, according to goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. But she added: “We shouldn’t be careless and think everything will easily go to plan.”

Birgit Prinz, the tournament’s all-time top scorer with 14 goals, is unlikely to start after her poor showing in Germany’s first two games.

“I don’t think I’ll be playing from the start,” the 33-year-old striker said.

Prinz is hoping to become the first player to score in five World Cups, but said she placed herself “under too much pressure.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel made a surprise visit to the squad at their team hotel on Wednesday, when she told the players of the “terrific enthusiasm in the country” and to “stick together and continue to believe in yourselves.”

The winner of Germany-Japan will face Sweden or Australia, who play on Sunday in Augsburg.

England meets France in Leverkusen on Saturday, to determine which faces the daunting task of taking on high-flying Brazil or the top-ranked Americans in the other semifinal.

Germany had expected to meet the U.S. in the semifinals on July 13, but Sweden’s 2-1 win over the Americans on Wednesday ensured the Scandinavians finished top of Group C, and left its opponents facing a showdown with the team led by five-time FIFA world player of the year Marta.

“We think the road to the World Cup’s top podium is going to be difficult,” Amy Wambach of the U.S. said. “That’s kind of been our journey so far, so why change things now?”

England beat already qualified Japan to top Group B, with Brazil also qualified before its last game in Group D.

One notable absentee from the quarterfinal lineup is Norway, who failed to reach the knock out round for the first time after losing 2-1 to Australia on Wednesday.

It was of vital importance for Germany _ and the tournament organizers _ that Silvia Neid’s side beat France 4-2 to top Group A.

Germany has evening kickoffs in each of its possible three remaining games, so it can continue to count on enthusiastic support from the home fans.

Not only that, but its semifinal _ if it beats Japan _ will be in Frankfurt, in the same stadium as the final on July 17.

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