New Zealand simply couldn’t go the full distance.
Last night Ray Curren pointed out the fact that Canada’s performance on Sunday would have made Blackpool manager Ian Holloway proud. And another dubious EPL comparison: did anyone catch New Zealand coach John Herdman tip his hat to Stoke City boss Tony Pulis post match? Herdman’s direct tactics were effective up to a point, but just as the midday sun began to scorch and Japan’s quality began to show, New Zealand hit a brick wall. Lack of full match fitness isn’t something that can be remedied by the time group play concludes. Perhaps Herdman will try a more aggressive approach against England on Friday and use the team’s height advantage bombard England’s wary center-back pairing with an early aerial assault.
At the risk of sounding horribly patronizing, New Zealand did well before their legs gave out. They even managed to score – something that hasn’t been done in a World Cup since November 21, 1991.
Japan are prepared, but not 100% precise.
Thanks to Aya Miyama’s peach of a free kick, Japan’s lack of finishing didn’t come back to bite them. It could become an issue though, as squandered several chances and Yuki Nagasota couldn’t get her shots on target after the first goal. Mana Iwabuchi had a dynamic cameo appearance in the second half, and injected life into the side. The precocious talent was the victim of poor first touches, heavily weighted balls, and wayward shots, however. Blame it on overexcitement maybe. On the other hand, Japan’s threat on set pieces was patently obvious. In dead ball situations, Japan’s preparedness resulted in the desired result and all three points.
Mexico doesn’t have to be in Cancun to be in control.
So the 4-5-1 formation Leo Cuellar used against the U.S. was a ruse. Well, kind of. Cuellar still used a five-woman midfield but in a hybrid 4-5-1/4-3-3 system with wingers. Mexico waited out England and began slowly throwing more numbers in the attack as the match wore on. Cuellar’s side kept countering and pressing until – boom – Monica Ocampo converted the long-range screamer [goal of the tournament]. From there, Mexico kept showing the swagger it used to befuddle the U.S. last November. Nayeli Rangel and Stephany Mayor ran England’s back four ragged. The team began to play with a higher line as well, and felt confident enough to initiate the attack from the back line, rather than only through counters. Mexico showed no signs of fatigue and England couldn’t turn the tide. The playacting got a little tiresome though.
England couldn’t adapt.
Hope Powell’s formation left little space in behind midfield. Mexico responded by parking the bus. Cuellar’s team conceded possession in midfield and opted to bunker in behind the ball and pack the defense. Cuellar’s tactics worked: England couldn’t make any headway in the final third and grew frustrated. Neither Kelly Smith – who did her best up to the 70th minute – in the center nor Karen Carney on the flank could sneak a ball into the center of England’s final third. When England managed to break through in the beginning of the second half, Eniola Aluko squandered the opportunities. England had no alternative. Carney was bizarrely pulled for Ellen White but by then, Mexico had all the momentum.
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A few more notes:
- ESPN deserves some love for its unique use of exterior remote sets. The network earned universal praise for its coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A stationary interior set was used for all the in-studio coverage, however. This arrangement is significantly less stuffy and gives the audience a street-level view of the host country. Just hope it doesn’t rain.
- The commentary continues to be insightful and enjoyable (in spite of Eniola Aluko’s apparent failure to understand Kate Markgraf’s sarcasm — she deleted the tweet in question, by the way), but the constant Barcelona comparisons must stop. Just because a team completes three passes doesn’t mean they’re Barcelona. It just means they’re good.
- Is this the tournament of the towering header? This OptaJoe stat is pretty impressive.
- SportsCenter’s Bob Holtzman is reporting that although it isn’t definitive, all indications suggest that Pia Sundhage will play Lauren Cheney in the midfield in place of Megan Rapinoe tomorrow. The rationale is that Cheney is a better crosser of the ball than Rapinoe and Abby Wambach is going to be the target woman. Jeffrey Carlisle’s preview also seems to confirm this.
Frankly, I’m too nervous about the match to genuinely think this through all the way. All I can think to say is, “Yes, folks have been clamoring for a system change for the past 12 months, but making one in the first World Cup group game? Hope it works.”