2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: Holland & USA

Holland

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 6th

xG Report (Holland listed first)

vs New Zealand (1-0, W) – 2.70-0.63
vs Cameroon (3-1, W) – 1.62-0.99
vs Canada (2-1, W) – 2.50-1.71
vs Japan (2-1, W) – 1.35 (+1 pen)-1.70
vs Italy (2-0, W) – 1.46-0.95
vs Sweden (1-0, W) – 1.76-1.28
vs USA (0-2, L) – 0.17-1.75 (+1 pen)

Overall xG Average – 1.65-1.30

Players to Watch

Lieke Martens – F (LF)

Martens was expected to set the tournament alight after her heroics at UEFA EURO 2017 for the title winning Dutch, but it never quite came off for her in this showcase. Some of the press criticism she faced back at home was probably a little out of line, but Martens did almost all of her work in two games, the opener against New Zealand and the win against Japan. Her form faded badly down the stretch in the knockout stage, not helped at all by a serious toe injury that made the last three matches a real struggle.

Kika van Es – D (LB, RB)

van Es looked like one of the tournament’s great secrets coming into France after having been a terror at full-back for Holland in the months leading up to the tournament. But there were serious questions about how she’d fare after breaking her hand in a friendly right before the WWC. The answer to the question wasn’t exactly positive, as though van Es wasn’t awful (sorry Derek Rae), she was nowhere near her best and gave way to Merel van Dongen midway through the group stage. What that means to her long-term future for the Dutch remains to be seen, though it won’t hurt her club aspirations, having sealed a move to Everton this offseason.

Vivianne Miedema – F (CF)

Miedema’s scoring rate was a constant subject for pundits coming into and during the WWC, and though she played well, she also perhaps did not hit the heights of her potential in this tournament. Miedema opened up hot in the first few games for the Dutch, including scoring a pair against Cameroon but cooled off noticeably in the matches against Canada and Japan. Miedema did net against Italy in the quarterfinal but wasn’t able to turn the tide in the next two matches, capping off a good but not necessarily great tournament for the Dutch.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

The backline looked to be a big question mark, though the Dutch got through it via a combination of Sari van Veenendaal bailing them out in goal or the defenders punching above their weight, though a 1.30 xG allowed average for the tournament shows that they weren’t exactly a brick wall. Merel van Dongen played much of the tournament at left-back, which didn’t look like a natural fit, while Dominique Bloodworth played there in a big gamble in the final that didn’t quite come off in the end. Stephanie van der Gragt shook off injury concerns to play relatively well on the month, save a shaky display in the final.

Answering The Questions

1. Shanice van de Sanden went from potential star to pantomime villain according to the narrative of many this tournament. The winger was touted by many as a potential force for Holland if she could replicate some of her club form at international level. But van de Sanden was also known for her unpredictability and propensity for having poor games as well. The “bad” van de Sanden was in full effect this tournament though, failing really to put together even one great game for the Dutch. She created just three chances in seven games and had only two chances herself (missing both). van de Sanden’s young enough to have at least one more WWC in her future, but her reputation suffered arguably as much as anyone this past month. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: England & Sweden

England

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 4th

xG Report (England listed first)

vs Scotland (2-1, W) – 1.55 (+1 pen)-0.49
vs Argentina (1-0, W) – 2.45 (+1 pen)-0.02
vs Japan (2-0, W) – 1.42-1.23
vs Cameroon (3-0, W) – 1.62-0.43
vs Norway (3-0, W) – 2.25 (+1 pen)-1.03
vs USA (1-2, L) – 1.21 (+1 pen)-0.92
vs Sweden (1-2, L) – 0.63-0.64

Players to Watch

Lucy Bronze – D (RB)

If people didn’t recognize the talent of Bronze coming into this tournament, they certainly do now, as the Lyon full-back goes home with the Silver Ball and the admiration of many after a fantastic tournament. Bronze was carving opponents up in an attacking right-back role for the first five matches and was putting on one of the great all-time tournament performances. Unfortunately for England, Bronze couldn’t quite match that form in the final two matches, cooling off significantly, though she also wasn’t a primary reason that her nation lost either match and was still more than worthy as a major award winner.

Jill Scott – MF (DMC)

It feels like Scott entered this tournament with almost no heat behind her after injuries had hit in the run-up to the tournament, though she was also very effective when playing. The good news for England was that Scott stayed healthy and was pretty good throughout, though she did struggle a bit in the group finale against Japan. Like Bronze though, Scott was kept at bay a bit in the semi-final and third-place game defeats, though one wonders if England might not have fared even worse in those matches without Scott.

Beth Mead – F (LF, RF)

Mead was tipped by some, including us, to be a potential breakout player at this WWC after the winger came into the tournament as one of England’s most dynamic players. But in reality, results were more mixed for the young winger. Mead only played five of the seven games and never got a whole match, which didn’t exactly help matters, though she did net assists in three matches that she did play in. But Mead never put in a truly dominant performance and had a shocker against Sweden in the third-place game, her passing and defense combined with twelve turnovers making her one of the most disappointing players for the nation on the day.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

Well, we were dead wrong about this one. I thought that England’s fatal flaws were at center-forward. But Ellen White had the month of her sporting life for England and was the best forward in the competition for many. England didn’t really get much else in terms of consistent play in front of goal from any of their other frontline options, but White was so acute in front of net that it hardly mattered all the way up to the last four.

Answering The Questions

1. In addition to the questions at center-forward, some wondered if England could hold up in goal as well. While both of the top options for England had looked good on paper statistically, Phil Neville had been indecisive in choosing just one to be the undisputed #1 option, and, ironically, his top two keepers would each play at least three games in France. Karen Bardsley made the most of her opportunity in four matches, giving up just one non-penalty goal on 3.14 xG against. But she was cruelly knocked out before the semi-final through injury, with Carly Telford much less assured in goal, conceding four goals on 1.58 xG. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: Italy & Germany

Italy

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 13th

xG Report (Italy listed first)

vs Australia (2-1, W) – 0.43-1.75 (+1 pen)
vs Jamaica (5-0, W) – 3.25 (+1 pen)-0.58
vs Brazil (0-1, L) – 1.07-1.55 (+1 pen)
vs China (2-0, W) – 0.90-0.89
vs Holland (0-2, L) – 0.95-1.46

Overall xG Average – 1.27-1.25

Players to Watch

Valentina Cernoia – MF (MC, DMC)

Italy largely were known for their attacking duo of Bonansea and Girelli coming into this tournament, but Cernoia was really the glue of the side in midfield that kept the offense ticking over. In retrospect, Cernoia wasn’t outstanding at this tournament, never really having a huge breakout game, with her showing against Brazil in the group stage finale probably standing out most. But Cernoia also didn’t have any real clangers, outside of an off-song performance against China in the knockout stage. Still, Cernoia ended up as one of the nation’s best field players and bolstered her reputation in France.

Alia Guagni – D (RB), MF (RM)

I noted how Italy’s strength in defense was likely to be out wide with the pre-tournament injury to Cecilia Salvai knocking the center-back out of this tournament. Gugani had turned herself into a star in Serie A over the past few seasons, prompting some to believe she could be the defensive bedrock this team needed in France. But it was instead the other full-back, Elisa Bartoli, who shined brightest, while Gugani really struggled to make an impact. She played well against China but otherwise didn’t really stand out for Italy.

Barbara Bonansea – F (LF, RF)

Bonansea got a whole lot of currency out of a stunning display in the opener, helping Italy stun Australia with her attacking prowess. That was about as good as it got for Bonansea though, as she failed to hit those heights afterward. She looked good against Jamaica, but then again, just about everyone in an Italian kit did against a clearly overmatched foe. Bonansea would be solid but not spectacular in matches against Brazil and China but was clearly out of gas against Holland and was a relatively early sub. The winger clearly has quality, but was forced to carry far too much of the burden for Italy’s attack.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

Well…not really. The goalkeeping, which was a bit of worry ended up being just fine, with Laura Giuliani being one of the tournament’s better keepers. It’d probably be difficult to call the defense good per se, but they weren’t a fatal flaw as in the case with some other teams such as Australia and Norway. Bartoli was the only defender that really stood out, but none of the preferred starting defenders was a disaster.

Answering The Questions

1. A huge worry about Italy coming into the tournament was whether a rather unimposing run-in to the WWC was not preparing Italy for this occasion, with two very difficult opponents in their group. The pessimism was unnecessary, as Italy looked the furthest thing from shell shocked as they upended Australia in their opener and never really looked out of their depth at any stage of the tournament. Continue reading

WoSo Independent Podcast #95 – WWC – Famous Last Words

Chris (@chris_awk) and Jon are back for their final WWC podcast.

In this podcast, they examine:

1. The WWC final. Which wasn’t exactly surprising given how we previewed the game.

2. The awards. Did the voters get it right (mostly, yes!)

3. Where do all twenty-four WWC participants go from here? Are their futures bright or not-so-bright? What can each do to improve ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, 2021 EUROs, or 2023 WWC?

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: France

France

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 2nd

xG Report (France listed first)

vs Korea Republic (4-0, W) – 1.99-0.17
vs Norway (2-1, W) – 1.95 (+1 pen)-0.51
vs Nigeria (1-0, W) – 2.15 (+1 pen)-0.05
vs Brazil (2-1, W) – 2.50-0.95
vs USA (1-2, L) – 1.83-0.99

Overall xG Average – 2.06-0.53

Players to Watch

Eugenie Le Sommer – F (LF, CF, RF)

It feels a bit weird to say this about a player who played reasonably well in all five of her matches at this WWC, but Le Sommer didn’t exactly meet the world’s lofty expectations given her massive pedigree. Her best match, as was the case with so many of her teammates, was in the opener, with results diminishing afterward. It’s not like Le Sommer was actively terrible in any of her matches, but she also never really threatened to make a run at the Golden Boot or Golden Ball, which some considered a possibility before the tournament.

Kadidiatou Diani – F (RF, CF)

Diani was supposed to be France’s rising star in the attack after some brilliant displays over the cycle, including against the USA earlier in the year. But Diani, like a few other wingers in this tournament, provided momentary glimpses of quality drowned out by a decided lack of end product. She wasn’t poor in the group stage (outside of a limp cameo in the Nigeria match), but the only truly outstanding performance came against Brazil in the first knockout round. She cooled back own against the USA though and was a bit of a disappointment on the whole given the lofty expectations for her coming into the tournament.

Wendie Renard – D (CB)

For a center-back who scored four goals in five games at the WWC, Renard didn’t have quite as strong a tournament as her goal count would indicate. The bizarre own goal against Norway will probably be a defining memory for many of Renard, but the veteran defender also had some odd misjudgments in defense at times. But with the bad out of the way, Renard still had a fine tournament and will probably be on the Best XI list for some. She never quite hit the dominance of her opening game performance, where she crushed Korea Republic with both goals and her defense, but Renard also never had anything close to a ‘poor’ game overall at this WWC.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

I identified the non-Amandine Henry center mids as the big weak point for France, and Corinne Diacre’s move to a 4-4-2 for much of the tournament didn’t exactly help their cause. Formation probably didn’t have much to do with the performances of Bussaglia and Thiney though, despite the latter playing in a more advanced role than usual. Bussaglia didn’t show much in the opener but was pretty average the rest of the way. Thiney was solid in the opener and played well against the USA in the quarterfinal but was dire in between. The duo probably didn’t sink France, but they didn’t exactly lift them to new heights either.

Answering The Questions

1. One of the dominant narratives surrounding France was their repeated buckling under pressure in major competitions before this WWC and if the same fate would befall them this time around. And the easy answer would be to point out France going out yet again before the final game, bowing out to the USA in the quarterfinal. But this wasn’t exactly a collapse. Yes, France were beaten and second best in many’s eyes. But they also fought doggedly, though the end result wasn’t what was expected or desired. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: Norway

Norway

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 11th

xG Report (Norway listed first)

vs Nigeria (3-0, W) – 1.18-0.57
vs France (1-2, L) – 0.51-1.95 (+1 pen)
vs Korea Republic (2-1, W) – 0.80 (+2 pen)-2.30
vs Australia (1-1, D) – 2.00-2.60
vs England (0-3, L) – 1.03-2.25 (+1 pen)

Overall xG Average – 1.11-1.93

Players to Watch

Caroline Graham Hansen – F (RF)

The pressure was on Graham Hansen to be the bright offensive spark that Norway needed with Ada Hegerberg not at the tournament. And for the most part, she delivered. Hansen’s displays in the opener against Nigeria and then later against Korea Republic and Australia had her legitimately in the discussion for the Golden Ball. But Hansen also suffered from the lack of consistent options around her, and more complete teams such as France and England had much greater success in shutting her down. That’s less of a knock on Hansen and more of an indicator that Norway on the whole needs more options in attack to let their young talisman truly flourish.

Isabell Herlovsen – F (CF)

Odds were that Herlovsen was going to have to have a good tournament if Norway was to make any progress in France, especially if Hansen was going to be used as a wide threat, as she was for a chunk of the tournament. But when all was said and done, Herlovsen was more hit than miss though, and it could be argued Norway progressed in spite of the veteran forward and not because of her efforts. She was marked out of the match against France and rebounded to play very well against Korea Republic but struggled to make an impact in the knockout rounds.

Ingrid Engen – MF (DMC)

With Norway dedicated to a 4-4-2 system in this tournament, the pressure was on the central midfield pair to truly hold the fort, with the young Engen the likeliest star. In truth, it was an up and down tournament for Engen, who was sensational in pressure matchups against Korea Republic and Australia but largely marginalized in the other three matches. The good news is that Engen is still very young and could grow into some of that potential in future big tournaments for Norway.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

I noted that Norway’s Achilles’ heel beyond their defense was a pretty poor conversion rate from their forwards. And so it was again here. The main culprits were Hansen, who caused no end of havoc for defenses but put in just one of her ten chances, and Lisa-Marie Utland, who the coaching staff seemed to lose confidence in very early in the tournament, converting just one in seven chances overall. While Norway’s attack still held its own, some are probably going to wonder if Hegerberg would’ve made a difference in putting some of those chances in the back of the net.

Answering The Questions

1. Norway had a ton of concern at center-back heading into the WWC considering their first-choice pairing had missed so much time with injuries and illness this past league season. Surprisingly though, the center of defense wasn’t a huge problem for Norway as compared to the flanks. Maren Mjelde turned back the years with a truly solid tournament, even looking reasonably good against France. Maria Thorisdottir wasn’t as strong and had a nightmare against Australia but was still solid in the other matches for Norway. Continue reading

WoSo Independent Podcast #94 – WWC – Bad Takes & The End Is Near

(No intro/outro music on this one, as we recorded late, late in the night, and I’m rushing to get it up.)

On this episode of the WoSo Independent Podcast, Chris (@chris_awk) and Jon talk all about the happenings of the Women’s World Cup in the past week.

They deliver their opinions on the Worst Takes of the WWC from media and punditry while delivering praise upon the USA’s coaching staff. Then, they review the quarterfinal and semi-final rounds of the WWC. Following that is some award talk and a *very* brief third-place game preview.

And of course, they close it out with a preview of the USA-Holland final. Do the Dutch stand a chance? Does being +700 underdogs feel like a slap in the face? And why are the Americans still likely to be raising the trophy at day’s end?

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: China & Japan

China

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 15th

xG Report (China listed first)

vs Germany (0-1, L) – 0.45-1.80
vs South Africa (1-0, W) – 2.20-0.37
vs Spain (0-0, D) – 0.03-2.30
vs Italy (0-2, L) – 0.89-0.90

Overall xG Average – 0.87-1.34

Players to Watch

Shuang Wang – F (CF), MF (AMC)

Shuang came into this tournament as the Chinese player with the highest reputation after moving abroad to Paris Saint-Germain. But she also came into this tournament at less than full fitness, not starting the first match for China and looking off song for much of the tournament. While she got a little bit better as the tournament went along, Wang never hit the expected heights for her, with China’s offense suffering as a result.

Ying Li – F (CF)

Li had a breakout campaign at the Asian Cup but had cooled off significantly coming into this WWC. Results in France were middling but likely better than some of her more highly touted counterparts. While Li only played in three matches, she did shine quite brightly in the win over South Africa, her first opportunity at this tournament, scoring a sweetly taken goal. She was less successful against stiffer opposition in the next games though, so her place in the pecking order for China’s attack is still fluid.

Zhang Rui – MF (DMC)

Rui had a ton of pressure on her in France as one of the players who China was leaning on heavily to fortify the center of the park after chopping and changing other personnel all the way up to the start of the tournament. To her credit, Rui performed wonderfully in the role, playing a significant role in all three matches and looking brightest against South Africa in a Chinese victory. While she underperformed a bit against Italy, so did many of her teammates, and Rui still looks like one of this side’s top players heading into the Olympic qualifying tournament.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

Stability was a huge question for China coming into the tournament considering they had gone through multiple coaches and a ludicrous amount of players throughout the cycle. But all things considered, it didn’t seem like that was something that really harmed the nation at this tournament. China may have had some serious flaws that kept them from further progress, but they hardly looked disjointed.

Answering The Questions

1. A big question was which combination would be used for China up top, a problem that resolved itself a bit with Shuang Wang’s versatility (and her being injured for the first match). Yang Li, Shanshan Wang, Ying Li, and Shuang Wang all saw some time as starters in the two-front for China, though the offense didn’t exactly sparkle while they were in France. This remains a position of some question heading into Olympic qualifying. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: Spain & Canada

Spain

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 8th

xG Report

vs South Africa (3-1, W) – 2.30 (+2 pen)-0.34
vs Germany (0-1, L) – 0.88-1.81
vs China (0-0, D) – 2.30-0.03
vs USA (1-2, L) – 0.21-1.20 (+2 pen)

Overall Average xG – 1.43-0.89

Players to Watch

Maria Pilar “Mapi” Leon – D (CB, LB)

Leon was easily Spain’s top defender coming into this tournament but was under question in terms of where she’d play, having played often at left-back for Spain despite playing centrally for club. She moved back inside for this tournament though, setting up at center-back for all four Spanish matches. While Leon put in a strong display against China in the group stage finale, she was otherwise disappointing. “Mapi” wasn’t awful by any stretch, but she hardly established herself as a standout and was overshadowed by center-back partner Irene Paredes.

Virginia Torrecilla – MF (DMC)

Torrecilla was one of my picks for a potential breakout player for Spain this tournament given her glittering statistical profile and under the radar reputation to this point. While Torrecilla didn’t dominate, she still managed to have a solid showing for Spain, shining brightest in a commanding display against South Africa in the opener. However, Torrecilla did have a rather tough time of it against the USA in the knockout stage, and her below par game on the day was a big reason Spain couldn’t pull the upset off.

Sandra Panos – GK

I was one of those who was adamant in thinking that Panos should be second choice behind Lola Gallardo in the goalkeeping pecking order for Spain, but the Barcelona netminder did a solid job for her country, seemingly as the undisputed #1 right now. Of course, Panos did this after a more than shaky debut against South Africa in the opener, but was one of Spain’s best players in the other three matches. That includes the USA defeat, where the two penalty goals given up were hardly a blotch on a solid day’s work.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

This one was a big of a no-brainer, really. Spain came into this tournament with real problems translating possession and control into goals and they exit it in much the same fashion. Statistically, Spain produced 5.73 xG and scored just two non-penalty goals, the worst discrepancy of any nation in the WWC. While the Spanish showed real signs of developing into a contender in some areas, until they find some sharper options in front of goal, their odds of actually winning trophies aren’t going to be that high.

Answering The Questions

1. Patri’s status coming into this tournament was a huge question for Spain, as the rising star was battling injury concerns all the way up to the start of the WWC. As it turns out, Patri was able to take part for Spain, though she only played in two matches and wasn’t truly unleashed until the final two games Spain played. Results were mixed. She didn’t make much of an impact against Germany off the bench but looked great against China. She was more muted against the USA, but nonetheless, Patri looks like someone key to this WNT in the future. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: Cameroon & Brazil

Cameroon

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 19th

xG Report (Cameroon listed first)

vs Canada (0-1, L) – 0.68-1.31
vs Holland (1-3, L) – 0.99-1.62
vs New Zealand (2-1, W) – 3.00-0.45
vs England (0-3, L) – 0.43-1.62

Overall xG Average – 1.30-1.25

Players to Watch

Gabrielle Onguéné – F (CF, LF)

Onguene wasn’t all that consistent, but her efforts were a big part of ensuring Cameroon actually made it into the last sixteen. She started out in a central role against Canada and looked largely out of sorts but fared much better on the wing in the other group stage matches, netting the consolation vs Holland and assisting on one of the goals against New Zealand. She wasn’t great against England, but few Cameroon players were. With Gaelle Enganamouit looking to be a shell of herself, Onguene might be this team’s new attacking leader.

Aurelle Awona – D (CB, RB)

It’s a shame that most will remember Awona’s own goal from this WWC more than anything else. Awona wasn’t bad against Canada, and then after being dropped against Holland, rebounded to perform solidly against New Zealand (own goal notwithstanding) and England, even in heavy defeat. With Christine Manie clearly at the end of the line, Awona’s likely to be a big part of this side’s defense in the present and future.

Raissa Feudjio – MF (DMC, RM)

Feudjio came in with an underrated reputation and a thankless job as the midfield hammer for this Cameroon side. Overall though, she was more miss than hit in the center of the park for Cameroon. Feudjio completed an impossibly bad 46% of her passes against Canada, and while she was never that bad again in the WWC, the only match she really shined in was against a New Zealand side with very little in response in the middle of the park.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

The biggest worry about Cameroon coming into this tournament was that their relatively sparse lead-in was not going to prepare them for the rigors of WWC football. It’s hard to quantify if that really played out in this WWC, but Cameroon weren’t exactly overwhelmed in any of their four matches. Still though, they were clearly second best against Canada in the opener and buckled under the big lights against England in the first knockout round.

Answering The Questions

1. One of the real wild cards for Cameroon was Gaelle Enganamouit, one of the unsung stars of the 2015 WWC for one of the tournament’s surprise packages. But many wondered how she would fare this time out after her career being derailed by serious injuries. The answer was depressingly poor, coming off the bench against Canada and then being subbed off after three fitful performances the rest of the way. She managed just one shot on target the entire tournament with no chances at goal, which has to bring her international future in question. Continue reading