2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: Jamaica

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 22nd

xG Report (Jamaica listed first)

vs Brazil (0-3, L) – 1.26-2.45 (+1 pen)
vs Italy (0-5, L) – 0.58-3.25 (+1 pen)
vs Australia (1-4, L) – 0.66-2.50

Overall xG Average – 0.83-2.67

Players to Watch

Bunny Shaw – F (CF)

Shaw was a mixed bag overall considering the overwhelming hype she received heading into the tournament. It took until the match against Australia for her to truly show her best form, but Shaw had herself a super showing against the Aussies in the final group match playing most of the match in a bit of a deeper role. She was considerably more muted in the other matches, though she was also the only real proven option in attack.

Chinyelu Asher – MF (AMC)

Asher playing in only two of the three group stage matches is always going to be one of the more puzzling decisions that Jamaica made considering she put in a creditable performance overall in the matches she did play in. Asher might have been one of the biggest losers when the new talent was brought in post-WWC qualification, as it just didn’t seem like the coaches found a way to squeeze her into the team amongst more glamorous options on paper.

Konya Plummer – D (CB)

Plummer came in with a huge burden on her shoulders as the very young captain of this Jamaica side, while trying to hold back three very dangerous attacks. Jamaica didn’t exactly succeed in this respect, but Plummer and fellow-center-back Allyson Swaby tried their best without really standing out. The good news is that the Jamaican captain is still very young and figures to grow as a player in her final season in college and further as a professional following this year.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

I identified midfield creativity as a major issue coming into the tournament, but Jamaica still managed to created an average of four chances a game, so it probably wasn’t a killer. Having Havana Solaun in the lineup as a late addition likely boosted their options in this respect, and it doesn’t look like something at the very top of the needs list going into the post-tournament building process.

Answering The Questions

1. One of the biggest questions I posed before the tournament was if Jamaica would have more in the tank offensively than just Shaw. They did, but not much more. Solaun showed her quality at times in the midfield, but others like Trudi Carter and Cheyna Williams didn’t trouble opposing defenses nearly enough. Moreover, Jody Brown, who had dazzled for much of CONCACAF qualifying, looked thoroughly out of her depth when on the pitch in this tournament. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup – Exit Reports: South Africa & Korea Republic

As teams get eliminated from the WWC, I’ll provide a look back at their tournament and how our predictions for them held up, while looking a bit to the future for them as well.

South Africa

Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 20th

xG Report (South Africa listed first)

vs Spain (1-3, L) – 0.34-2.30 (+2 pen)
vs China (0-1, L) – 0.37-2.20
vs Germany (0-4, L) – 0.36-4.10

Overall Average: 0.36-2.83

Players to Watch

Lebogang Ramalepe – D (RB)

Ramalepe was one of seven South Africans to play significant minutes in all three matches, but that doesn’t mean she was great. The right-back was pretty consistent in her three appearances but hardly produced a standout performance.

Bambanani Mbane – D (CB)

Was not favored playing opposite Janine van Wyk, with Noko Matlou getting the role instead. Matlou was one of South Africa’s better performers, so it’s hard to argue that this was a bad decision. Mbane played just one game in this tournament.

Linda Motlhalo – MF (DMC, MC, RM)

Motlhalo ended up playing significant minutes in just one game this tournament for unknown reasons and was a standout in that match, so it’s a mystery as to why she didn’t see more action. Her absence really hurt the South Africans in midfield and attack.

Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?

Pre-tournament analysis noted that goalkeeping was a massive concern, but it was far from their biggest issue at this tournament. Dlamini may have given up a ton of goals, but at the same time, she also was bombarded behind a pitiful backline. Kaylin Swart also played one game and suffered a similar fate, giving up just one goal on 2.10 xG. Still, it wasn’t exactly a stonewall effort either, as Dlamini’s second she conceded against Germany shows.

Answering The Questions

1. Motlhalo’s situation was addressed above, with her confusing absence in two of the matches really hurting the team. Kgatlana played in all three matches and looked to be someone to watch after a star turn in the opener. But she floundered in the other two matches, with South Africa’s offense looking punchless as a result. Continue reading

WoSo Independent Podcast #92 – WWC – Group Stage, Phase II Review

Chris (@chris_awk) and Jon are back to talk for entirely too long about the second stage of group games (and a few first round games). Going group-by-group, who has impressed? Who has disappointed? Where did we get things right? Where were we laughably wrong? And what media narrative talking points are driving us crazy?

And finally, what does the roadmap for the knockout stage look like in our eyes?

WoSo Independent Podcast #91 – WWC – USA Preview + Reviewing The First Nine Matches!

[No intro/outro music due to a technical gremlin]

Chris (@chris_awk) and Jon are back for a mega-sized podcast talking WWC.

2:00 – It’s a preview (of sorts) of the USA. Less about the tactics (you know them) and projected lineup (you know this too) and more about pivotal questions hanging over the team as they begin their quest in France

36:30 – Lots of talk on the first four days of the WWC in France! We talk about a performance for the ages from Amandine Henry, give plaudits to great tactics from Spain and Italy, and shake our collective heads at Australia.

2019 Women’s World Cup Preview – #1 – USA

[Preview Podcast to be posted some time Saturday/Sunday]

How They Got Here

It’s CONCACAF, so the USA didn’t exactly find themselves tested until the final. There, they still had their way with Canada, topping their one true regional rival by a 2-0 count to win bragging rights, though qualification had been sealed with their win earlier against Jamaica in the semi-final.

Since qualifying, the USA have played many games (too many games?) and won going away in most of them outside of a worrying spell in early 2019 that saw them well handled by France in Le Havre before draws with Japan and England back on home soil. However, the United States enter the WWC on the back of six straight wins, though some would point out that the only opponent of real consequence was Australia, a 5-3 win.

2019 Matches – xG (USA listed first)

vs France (1-3, L) – 0.29-1.37
vs Spain (1-0, W) – 0.75-0.28
vs Japan (2-2, D) – 1.76-0.87
vs England (2-2, D) – 3.60-0.49
vs Brazil (1-0, W) – 1.64-0.71
vs Australia (5-3, W) – 2.10-1.16
vs Belgium (6-0, W) – 2.20-0.70
vs South Africa (3-0, W) – 3.20-0.08
vs New Zealand (5-0, W) – 4.90-0.33
vs Mexico (3-0, W) – 2.80-0.04

Big Tournament History

The United States are three-times world champions having sealed the title in 1991, 1999, and 2015. In between, they’ve never finished lower than third place and have never lost more than once at a WWC. The Olympic Games have been just as fruitful, with the USA claiming four gold medals and a silver medal in 2000. However, the last major tournament the USA were in also brought their worst performance, as they suffered quarterfinal heartbreak against Sweden.

Manager – Jill Ellis (from May 2014 as permanent manager)

Potential Lineup/Tactics

United States - Football tactics and formations

The days of tinkering appear to be well and done with, with supporters thankful the days of experimenting with three at the back are in the past. Ellis has settled in with an aggressive 4-3-3 as the default that has proven to be an attacking machine when the parts are on form. A 4-2-3-1 can be used as a secondary formation, though it’s been rarely used in recent months.

The full strength lineup seems to be mostly set with a few exceptions. Abby Dahlkemper appears to have beaten out Tierna Davidson for the second center-back spot alongside Becky Sauerbrunn. Kelley O’Hara appears to be the starting right-back as long as she holds up physically after numerous injuries the past calendar year. Rose Lavelle and Julie Ertz appear like locks in central midfield, with Lindsey Horan likely favored over Sam Mewis, who likely closed the gap late in the cycle. The triple threat of Rapinoe, Morgan, and Heath appears to be the preferred combination up top.

Players to Watch

Tobin Heath – F (LF, RF) – Portland Thorns

Heath has been a raging supernova in 2019, bludgeoning her opponents (with the notable exception of Spain) and setting a course as one of the most in-form wingers coming into the WWC. Some of Heath’s numbers at international level are astounding. There’s the 57% (!!!) conversion rate, helped by goals in five of her last six appearances. The 2.1 key passes per 90 minutes, one of the very few to cross the 2 key pass per 90 mark. The formidable 35% crosses completed.The impressive defense, winning 62% of her challenges on defense (which might be why she was experimented at left-back during the 2019 run-in). On the whole, Heath has eviscerated the competition after a slow start to the cycle and looks like one of the competition’s most dangerous players heading into France. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup Preview – #2 – France

[Note: No intro/outro music, because I am tired, you monsters.]

How They Got Here

In (mostly) resplendent form, though it wasn’t always that way. Manager Corinne Diacre was likely close to the sack early in 2018 after a 4-0 loss to Germany, 0-0 draw with Sweden, 1-1 draw with Italy, and a 4-1 humiliation to England in the SheBelieves Cup. But a 3-0 win over Germany later in the competition likely saved Diacre’s job and may have been the turning point for a side that has failed to win just once since, a 1-0 loss to Germany this past February. In that span, France has beaten the likes of Australia, the USA, and Japan on their way to the status of being one of this tournament’s favorites with home advantage in their back pocket.

2019 Matches – xG (France listed first)

vs USA (1-0, W) – 1.37-0.28
vs Germany (0-1, L) – 1.61-0.40
vs Uruguay (6-0, W) – 4.40-0.00
vs Japan (3-1, W) – 1.99-0.59
vs Denmark (4-0, W) – 2.10-0.74
vs Thailand (3-0, W) – 4.00 (+2 pen)-0.05
vs China (2-1, W) – 1.26-0.51

Big Tournament History

It’s been a history of “oh, what could have been” for France in major tournaments. The French have spent nearly a decade of being called favorites to win a major tournament, only to implode as the pressure built. To be fair, France are still relative neophytes on the world stage after largely going unnoticed for the formative years of women’s soccer. They didn’t qualify for a WWC until 2003, that a meek group stage exit, followed by somehow not making it to 2007’s showpiece event. A fourth-place finish in 2011 was a solid comeback, but exiting at the quarterfinals in 2015 was deeply disappointing.

There’s been little to shout about at either the Olympic Games or European Championship either. France managed to secure fourth place in London 2012 but were bounced in the quarterfinals four years later in Rio. The EUROs have somehow even been worse, where three tournaments of group stage anonymity have been followed by three straight quarterfinal exits, the last coming against England two years again Deventer, Holland.

Manager – Corinne Diacre (from August 2017)

Potential Lineup/Tactics

France - Football tactics and formations

Diacre experimented with various formations throughout 2018, including a couple of high-profile matches playing three at the back late in the year. But the experimentation appears to be over for France, as they’ve played 4-2-3-1 in each of their 2019 matches thus far and appear to have settled on the formation for the tournament.

The lineup has mostly consolidated around a stable core of players. The backline is almost set in stone, with Aissatou Tounkara perhaps coming in at center-back for one of the group games if someone needs a rest. One of the bigger questions is in central midfield, where the aging Elise Bussaglia and Gaetane Thiney may need to see their minutes managed to last the tournament. Charlotte Bilbault and Grace Geyoro are likely first in line there. While Delphine Cascarino is a lock at right-winger, it’s likely that Diacre will have a tough choice for the other two spots. While Eugenie Le Sommer and Kadidiatou Diani should get the spots, Valerie Gauvin, an out-and-out #9 has been getting a ton of minutes this cycle and could also find herself getting a start (or more).

Players to Watch

Eugenie Le Sommer – F (LF, CF, RF) – Lyon

One of the absurdities of France’s squad and their embarrassment of riches is that a player of Le Sommer’s calibre, one of the world’s best attackers, isn’t even guaranteed a starting spot in the lineup. Le Sommer has only played in three of France’s matches in 2019 and could be usurped by Diani (noted below) and upstart Valerie Gauvin. But it’s hard envisioning Le Sommer out of this lineup considering how ruthlessly effective she’s been since some stutters at the beginning of 2018. A stretch of eight goals in six matches underlined her quality, with the winger finishing at a ruthless 44% conversion rate this cycle. Le Sommer’s also capable of setting up teammates, with 1.3 key passes per game, and that playmaking dimension might prove the difference for netting her a starting spot. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup Preview – #3 – Germany

[Note: No intro/outro music, because I am tired, you monsters.]

How They Got Here

At a very basic level, Germany got here without much struggle, winning their group by four points and winning seven of their eight matches in the qualifying group. But it was a bizarre and tumultuous journey in actuality. The cycle began under the stewardship of Steffi Jones, who had taken over from the legendary Silvia Neid after Germany’s 2016 Summer Olympic triumph. But a disappointing UEFA EURO 2017 saw them exit in the quarterfinal. They’d lose to Iceland in WWC qualifying a few months later, and they’d put up an embarrassing display in the SheBelieves Cup in 2018 which left the federation no other choice but to sack Jones mid-qualifying campaign.

Former international Martina Voss-Tecklenburg was first choice but also contracted still with Switzerland and not available until 2019 began. It led to the rather odd arrangement of former men’s U21 and Olympic boss Horst Hrubesch taking over as interim boss for the rest of 2018 despite not having a background in coaching women’s soccer. It turned out to be a rather seamless fit, Germany going 7-0-1 in his stead, with Voss-Tecklenburg taking over in the new year. The new boss has overseen wins against WWC hosts France as well as Sweden and a draw with Japan in meaningful friendlies.

2019 Matches – xG

vs France (1-0, W) – 0.40-1.61
vs Sweden (2-1, W) – 1.60-0.58 (+1 pen)
vs Japan (2-2, D) – 3.50-0.70
vs Chile (2-0, W) – 2.70-0.01

Big Tournament History

Long and distinguished. Germany have been traditionally one of the best in the world at the women’s game, with their pair of WWC titles in 2003 & 2007 serving as testament. But the quarterfinal loss to Japan on home soil in 2011’s showpiece was a traumatic defeat for Germany that still resonates to this day despite solid results since. Germany recovered to finish fourth in 2015 and won the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, picking up the one major title that had frustratingly eluded them to this point.

But Germany also isn’t coming into this tournament on the best note in the major competition front after their worst performance at the UEFA European Championship since first qualifying in 1989. They had won that crown six straight times and eight times of nine in one of sport’s most stunning feats before their quarterfinal flameout in Holland in 2017. Supporters have to hope the change in management will be all that’s needed for a change in fortunes.

Manager – Martina Voss-Tecklenburg (from 2019)

Potential Lineup/Tactics

Germany - Football tactics and formations

(Note: This is a very rough guess for Germany’s lineup. They’ve used many formations since MVT took over, and shown many looks.)

Voss-Tecklenburg has been one of international’s most frustrating managers to figure out due to her frequent tactical shifts in shape. With Switzerland, she played a 4-4-2 for half of last year before switching to a 4-3-3 and then a 4-2-3-1 down the stretch before playing 3-4-3 in the final leg of the playoff against Holland (likely due to the Swiss needing a result). The German boss has been equally obtuse this year, playing a 4-4-2 diamond vs France, a 3-4-3 vs Sweden, a flat 4-4-2 against Japan, and a 4-2-3-1 against Chile. It’s entirely possible we’ll see a multitude of formations based on opponent…though that doesn’t exactly help out projections.

MVT’s experimenting also makes it almost impossible to pick out a lineup as well. There are some clear choices though. Almuth Schult, yips and all, looks to be the starting keeper, with Sara Doorsoun a lock at center-back. Of the front four (if a front four is used), Alexandra Popp and Dzsenifer Marozsan will be central, Svenja Huth will be wide right.

And things get a little crazy after that. Marina Hegering looks to have emerged from nowhere to win the other center-back job despite just having three caps at age twenty-nine. The outstanding Carolin Simon might have a leg up at left-back but could be pushed by Verena Schweers. Leonie Maier, has not seemed to fit in MVT’s plans yet, meaning right-back could be a toss-up, with Giulia Gwinn a possibility, along with Kathrin Hendrich. Gwinn seems a near lock to play *somewhere* on the pitch, but can play any role on either flank. In central midfield, two from Melanie Leupolz, Lina Magull, and Sara Dabritz will likely be chosen. Wide left is likely the biggest question mark. Lea Schuller played there against Chile, but almost half the roster could seemingly suit up there based on friendlies.

Players to Watch

Carolin Simon – D (LB) – Lyon

Perhaps cruelly known more as being Amel Majri’s understudy at Lyon, Simon in actuality looks like an elite left-back herself unfortunately trapped behind perhaps the world’s best left-back. That matters little for country though, and Simon made a hell of a case for herself as the starter with a goal and an assist against Chile in the final friendly and has overall been brilliant for Germany in all but the scoreless draw against Spain. A killer passer, completing 82% of her chances and 1.4 key passes per 90 minutes, Simon isn’t bad defensively either, winning 60% of her defensive challenges and having seven ball recoveries per 90 minutes. Simon may be a little careless with the ball, but overall, she could shine bright if given the appropriate minutes. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup Preview – #4 – England

[Note: No intro/outro music, because I am tired, you monsters.]

How They Got Here

Mostly faultless, though with one slip-up in qualifying. England slipped to a shock draw against Wales in the middle portion of qualifiers but eased by them back in Newport to eliminate any doubt. A +28 goal differential in eight games pretty much tells the story of how uncomplicated the actual qualification process was.

But that’s not to say it’s all been smooth. Mark Sampson was sacked for “inappropriate and unacceptable behavior” during a previous job, with Phil Neville coming in as the new manager, amidst some skepticism having never really worked in the women’s game prior. Neville has seen some real successes beyond the qualifying campaign, with the 2019 SheBelieves Cup triumph ranking particularly high. But there’s also been befuddling results as well, such as the multiple goal loss to Sweden, a limp defeat to Canada, and June 1’s shock loss to New Zealand, hardly the tone setter wanted for the WWC.

2019 Matches – xG (England listed first)

vs Brazil (2-1, W) – 2.10-0.50 (+1 pen)
vs USA (2-2, D) – 0.49-3.60
vs Japan (3-0, W) – 1.13-1.27
vs Canada (0-1, L) – 0.46-1.44
vs Spain (2-1, W) – 1.65-1.84
vs Denmark (2-0, W) – 1.88-1.88
vs New Zealand (0-1, L) – 1.64-1.04

Big Tournament History

It’s mostly been an unflattering history for England at the WWC. They missed three of the first four WWCs, though they did manage to reach the quarterfinals in Sweden in 1995. England managed to emerge from their slumber for good in 2007, but it wouldn’t really be until their brave third-place showing in Canada in 2015 that the big breakthrough was achieved. Had it not been for a bad bounce in the semi-final against Japan, the Three Lionesses could well have been finalists in that tournament.

The on-and-off again Great Britain women’s soccer team has meant that this England side has mostly not taken part in the Olympics, with the London 2012 games the exception, where the team disappointingly slumped to a quarterfinal loss to Canada. It means that the secondary competition for England in most respects is the UEFA EUROs, where England were staggeringly hit and miss for a long while, finishing runners-up in 1984 before getting to the last four in 1987 & 1995. But they also missed the show on four occasions before really beginning to grab a foothold in the new millennium, peaking with a runner-up showing in 2009 in Finland. Big things were expected in Holland in 2017, but the Three Lionesses were shattered by the hosts in the semi-finals. England figure to be among the favorites in 2021 as EURO hosts.

Manager – Phil Neville (from January 2018)

Potential Lineup/Tactics

England - Football tactics and formations

Neville has oscillated between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 and figures to potentially use both in France. While the 4-2-3-1 looks more likely as a default based on the evidence from 2019’s friendlies, it should be noted that Neville used the 4-3-3 to great effect in March in a punishing 3-0 win over Japan, one of England’s group stage opponents this time out.

More up for discussion is Neville’s obsessive tinkering, which has come in for some murmuring amongst the press and supporters. It also makes a potential lineup more difficult to predict. One of the biggest discussions may be in goal, with neither Karen Bardsley nor Carly Telford particularly inspiring much confidence. On the backline, while Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton look set, Abbie McManus and Millie Bright could battle over the other CB spot, while Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes are contenders at left-back. In the center of the park, the Walsh-Scott-Kirby triangle looks to be set though, if Neville follows through with his Lucy Bronze to midfield experiment, Walsh could make way, with Rachel Daly slipping in at right-back. Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan look the likely wingers, though Beth Mead is snapping at their heels for minutes, with Jodie Taylor trying to battle with Ellen White for the #9 role.

Players to Watch

Lucy Bronze – D (RB) – Lyon

Simply one of the world’s best right-backs, if not the very best. Offers the complete package both going forward to support the attack, as well as in defense, to the point that she has been experimented with in a central midfield role a few times as well, performing admirably. It certainly raises more options, considering England has a fine replacement in Rachel Daly waiting in the wings to take over at right-back. Bronze averages 0.8 key passes per game but perhaps more notably completes nearly 40% of her crosses, a huge number at this level. Add in about 2.4 dribbles per 90 minutes, and it’s clear that Bronze is a big part of the England offense. Defensively, Bronze wins about two-thirds of her defensive challenges and is a terror in the air, winning about 70% of aerial duels. Regardless of her position, Bronze figures to be pivotal to any championship challenge. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup Preview – #5 – Australia

How They Got Here

Well, the actual qualification tournament part wasn’t much fuss. Australia did draw with Korea Republic and Japan but still finished well ahead of the pair on goal differential to clinch their spot in the WWC proper. Good thing too, as Australia almost contrived to lose the semi-final to Thailand, needing an injury time equalizer and penalties to overcome the minnows before losing to Japan in the final.

And then chaos. Alen Stajcic was sacked as manager under still mysterious circumstances, unrelated to results, as Australia had looked quite formidable other than a shock defeat to Chile. In came Ante Milicic a former assistant for the men’s national team in Australia. Early returns were promising, as the Matildas swept a three game tournament on home soil, though against rather limited opposition. Worse was to come after though, as the defense started to leak buckets in a loss to the USA (5-3), a friendly against Holland (3-0), and a closed-door scrimmage against the same Dutch a few days later (3-1).

2019 Matches – xG (Australia listed first)

vs New Zealand (2-0, W) – 2.00-0.38
vs Korea Republic (4-1, W) – 1.95 (+1 pen)-0.55
vs Argentina (3-0, W) – 1.24 (+1 pen)-0.42
vs USA (3-5, L) – 1.16-2.10
vs Holland (0-3, L) – 1.32-1.32

Big Tournament History

Forever waiting for that next step. Australia have been stuck at the quarterfinal stage for three tournaments running at the WWC, though that’s a little less impressive when you consider only eight teams advanced to the knockout round until 2015’s expanded tournament. But there’s still been a steady progression from a side that did not win a single game until 2007’s tournament.

The Olympics have been far spottier. With fewer spots, Australia’s had some failures along the way, not managing to make the cut in 2008 or 2012 and still having not reached the semi-finals. 2016’s adventure was probably one of the hardest to swallow, as the Matildas advanced to penalties against the hosts, only to fall, 7-6, after a scoreless draw.

Manager – Ante Milicic (from February 2019)

Potential Lineup/Tactics

Australia - Football tactics and formations

Likely to be a 4-3-3. This is naturally a little harder to focus on than most since Milicic has had a whopping five matches and one closed-door scrimmage to work with since taking charge. However, he’s used a 4-3-3 in four of those matches, only breaking towards an ill-advised 4-4-2 against the USA. The nation have some experience in playing 4-3-3, having played in it for long stretches under Stacic, before he abandoned it for 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 late in 2018.

There are some selection issues for Milicic to work around. Steph Catley is still working her way back to full fitness after serious injury issues but should be the starting left-back after playing centrally for stretches. If Catley can’t go all three games in the group stage or needs a sub, Gema Simon will likely deputize. In the 4-4-2 that was used against the United States, Australia moved Tameka Yallop to the wing, with Kellond-Knight and Van Egmond central, with Caitlin Foord the second striker opposite Sam Kerr. Milicic will likely try to cram four of Foord, Chloe Logarzo, Lisa de Vanna, and Hayley Raso on the pitch at the same time. de Vanna is thirty-four and though still blessed with pace may be best as a super sub, while Raso has had injury problems of her own to work through this cycle.

Players to Watch

Samantha Kerr – F (CF) – Chicago Red Stars

Kerr has shaken off injury concerns and inconsistency from earlier in her career to simply become one of the world’s best players. In electrifying form for both club and country this cycle, Kerr could well make this WWC her own if she can lead Australia to glory. Whether it’s finishing using her blazing pace or a coolly placed ball to the back post, Kerr has scored goals for fun for the Chicago Red Stars and with Australia, and boasts a solid conversion rate at 29%. She also is more than able to play killer balls for teammates, averaging 1.6 key passes per 90 minutes at 67% completion. And despite her frame not being the biggest for a forward, Kerr wins more than half of her aerial duels, often to the detriment of the opponent’s goal. It would be a major surprise if Kerr doesn’t light up France this Summer. Continue reading

2019 Women’s World Cup Preview – #6 – Holland

(Note: Apologies for the sometimes shaky audio quality on this one, Jon’s stuck with hotel wi-fi on his end for this one.)

How They Got Here

Through the back door. Nobody really expected the Dutch to have to resort to the playoffs after winning UEFA EURO 2017. But that was the reality after a draw with Ireland in November 2017 made their final group stage match against Norway a must not lose proposition. They did lose, going behind 2-0 after just six minutes and falling 2-1. But the playoffs themselves were essentially a procession, as Holland outclassed both Denmark and Switzerland by 4-1 aggregate scores to advance to France.

The story since has been a Jekyll and Hyde tale. The good is four victories, with the attack scoring fourteen goals overall in that span, the capper being a 3-0 mauling of Australia on June 1. However, there was also the Algarve Cup from hell, with the Netherlands losing to Spain and Poland before being forced to penalties by China (which they won). Holland look well poised to challenge for a title if you can ignore that Algarve Cup. That’s a big ‘if’ though.

2019 Matches – xG (Holland listed first)

vs South Africa (2-1, W) – 1.12-0.86
vs Spain (0-2, L) – 1.19-0.60
vs Poland (0-1, L) – 1.35-1.43
vs China (1-1, D) – 2.50-1.60
vs Mexico (2-0, W) – 3.20-0.11
vs Chile (7-0, W) – 3.80-0.12
vs Australia (3-0, W) – 1.32-1.32

Big Tournament History

Theoretically, the Dutch should have been one of the vanguards for women’s soccer in Europe, but that simply wasn’t the case, as Holland didn’t qualify for a major competition until 2009’s European Championship. They made a staggering big tournament debut though, finishing as semi-finalists at the first time of asking, making their failures in 2013’s EUROs (group stage exit) and the last WWC (bounced in the last sixteen) that much more frustrating.

But the Dutch announced themselves as world powerhouses just two years ago on home soil, winning the UEFA EUROs and doing it in style, winning all six matches, including all three knockout stage games by multiple goals. That display seems like a clarion call to the rest of the world that Holland is ready to compete for a world title.

Manager – Sarina Wiegman (from January 2017)

Potential Lineup/Tactics

Holland - Football tactics and formations

Wiegman looks likely to switch between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 depending on the day. Holland have mostly gone with the 4-3-3 this cycle but busted out the 4-2-3-1 to great effect against Chile and then, most impressively, against Australia in the 3-0 win on June 1. For most intents and purposes, the end result will be the same, with the same marauding front four, but perhaps some differing personnel behind them in central midfield. Wiegman’s also turned to a 4-1-4-1 a few times this cycle, though that formation seems much less likely, especially in their group.

Holland looks to be in mostly settled shape with their starting lineup. The front three of Miedema, van de Sanden, and Martens are unshakable, with Lineth Beerensteyn the first option off the bench. Danielle van de Donk figures to be the highest attacking midfielder and the #10 if Holland switch to a 4-2-3-1. Sherida Spitse will likely be the defensive midfielder anchor, while Jackie Groenen appears to have held off Jill Roord for the other central midfield spot. On the backline, Kika van Es would normally be a lock but broke her hand in the friendly against Australia. Merel van Dongen played there after van Es was injured and figures to be first choice as an injury replacement. That could complicate things at center-back, as van Dongen was likely first choice there to replace Stefanie van der Gragt if needed, with the Barcelona player having just gotten back into the international frame after injury. van der Gragt started against Australia but struggled though she will still likely get the nod over Anouk Dekker and Danique Kerkdijk.

Players to Watch

Lieke Martens – F (LF) – Barcelona

Martens shot from relative obscurity to being a global superstar of women’s soccer in 2017, as she made waves with dazzling displays in leading Holland to the UEFA EURO crown. The performances helped Martens win pretty much every European and FIFA individual award that year and paved the way for a move to Barcelona that has reaped more rewards. At international level, Martens is the left blade of the three-pronged Dutch attack and is a fiercely effective scorer and playmaker, the latter being evidenced by her 1.7 chances created per 90 minutes. Martens is also a solid bet to top the table of dribbles at tournament’s end, averaging 5.1 successful attempts per 90 minutes at 58% success. She won’t have to do it alone, but Martens could well be the catalyst for Dutch glory in France this Summer. Continue reading