By Now We’ve Seen Everyone Play, So Here Are a Few Notes

It’s anyone’s knockout round.

After eight group stage fixtures, there haven’t been any lopsided results. Not even close. The highest goal differential stands at merely two goals – and that was in just one game.

In each match we’ve watched the momentum seesaw between opponents. The favored team has always been put on the back foot (remember the final seven minutes of the Germany/Canada match) and/or have needed time to figure out how to break down their opponents (i.e. Sweden/Colombia, France/Nigeria, Brazil/Australia and on and on).  

The big fish have shown some vulnerability (Germany, U.S., Brazil) while the minnows (Equatorial Guinea, Colombia) have earned praise, but no points. From where we stand today, is there any team we can prohibitively say won’t make the knockout round? Nigeria probably. Colombia perhaps. And that’s only because of the level of quality around them, not necessarily because of their lack of class. Trying to predict the outcomes of the rest of the group matches has become a futile task. Expect the unexpected, and all that.     

 

The U.S. has played the best 45 minutes of soccer thus far.  

That would be Germany’s honor, but Canada gave them a real challenge in the first 45 – particularly in central midfield. In a complete about face, the U.S. completely bossed North Korea in the second half on Tuesday, and in every area of the park. Maybe it was the “struck by lightning” excuse that did North Korea in or perhaps the U.S. are just plain good.  

 

It’s been a low scoring affair.

This is the lowest scoring first round of group matches in any Women’s World Cup, and by quite some distance. Here’s some historical perspective. The following is the average number of goals scored in each game by the end of the first set of opening round fixtures in past World Cups:

2011: 1.75

2007:4.875

2003: 3.375

1999: 3.25

1995:4.3

1991: 3.6

It’s important to note that there has been at least one blowout in every previous tournament by this stage:

In 2007 there was Germany 11, Argentina 0.

In 2003 it was Japan 6, Argentina 0.

1999 saw Brazil 7, Mexico 1.

1995 had  Norway 8, Nigeria 0.

And in 1991 it was Italy 5, Chinese Taipei 0.

All of those score lines have vastly inflated the averages, but that only reinforces the point. So what are the causes? Increased parity (definitely), more defensive matches (eh), and loads of missed shots (yes, that).

The 2010 FIFA World Cup was derided for low-scoring, turgid matches. The average number of goals by the end of the first group stage matches? 1.5 – only slightly lower than this tournament. But at least these games have been engaging. 

 

As was hoped for, the tournament has shown how much the women’s game has progressed.   

More competitive matches are a telltale sign of this, for sure, but there are many other instances of this: The technical ability observed in how often teams have retained possession, the organized defenses, the quality of the goals scored.

Then there’s the tactics, like how Australia had completely out-thought Brazil in the first half by making them play with a deep defensive line that didn’t allow for much Joga Bonita-ing. Brazil changed things up a bit in the second half, and finally broke through with a lovely piece of skill from Rosana.

One benchmark that’s used to illustrate how the men’s game has developed is to observe the speed of play. Watch the  final of the 1970 FIFA World Cup; generally considered the best edition in history:

[vsw id=”BYWy4Ey7PfM” source=”youtube” width=”500″ height=”450″ autoplay=”no”]

It almost looks like they’re playing underwater, at least when in comparison to the blistering pace that the game is played at today. You enter dubious territory when you start comparing men’s and women’s soccer as they each have their unique virtues. But it’s hard to watch a match like the Germany vs. Canada and not acknowledge the quick pace the game was played at.

The professionalism of the women’s game, whether that be at the club or national team level, has to be credited for the marked development.

It can only get better.

 

[More after the jump]

Rather arbitrary power rankings. Note the separations between teams ranked 1-2, 3-5, and 6-16.

1.) Germany – Still the favorites, mostly because of the home advantage, the precision, and the stacked bench. Have to keep their heads *if* they concede, though. And remain calm under immense pressure.

2.) USA – The U.S. played to its fullest capability in the second half on Tuesday and dominated. Other teams are correct to pay respect, so long as the team keeps performing at that level.

 

3.) Japan – The defense hasn’t gotten taller in the past three days, but Japan’s possession game and set piece threat separates them from the rest.  

4.) Canada – Christine Sinclair’s gutsy and determined performance against Germany embodied Canada’s time in the World Cup so far. Get more shots on target and sort out the outside back positions, and they’re set for a deep run. (Note: Christine Sinclair looks doubtful for tomorrow’s match against France. We’ll see.)

5.) Brazil – Kleiton Lima’s 3-4-3 system with a sweeper in front of the back line looked unbalanced and unsettled against Australia. A lack of sufficient preparation also undoubtedly had something to do with that. But like Rosana showed today, they’re capable of conjuring up bits of magic.

6.) Sweden – That defense was watertight and organized against Colombia, even if the midfield became unstuck on occasion. They also couldn’t buy a goal for much of the match. Again, just have to get more shots on frame in the back of the net.

 

7.) Mexico – Surprise packages of the tournament so far. When they finally tipped the scales in midfield against England, there was no turning back. Just have to create more chances, because you can’t bank on converting screamers from 30 yards out every time game.   

8.) France – Showed hints of what they’re capable of, namely good movement and dangerous link-up play in the final third. Bini just has to settle on an appropriate strike partner for Delie, because Abily didn’t make the grade on Sunday. Tomorrow’s a huge match.

9.) England – Became far too harried by Mexico in the last half, resulting in a fairly worrying performance. Fitness also looks to be a concern, as most of the players flat out ran out of gas in the final stages of the match. Also, Smith will be key. And Yankey has to be more involved. Williams’ header is the only reason they’re slightly above Australia.

10.) Australia – The Matildas were well-organized and defended as a unit against Brazil. The apparent inability to finish (or even come close to finishing) is a worry. De Vanna needs to be more patient on the ball.

11.) Norway – Not a good performance against Equatorial Guinea, but they got the goal and ground out the result. Landsem’s side was bereft of ideas in the first half and had no answers for Equatorial Guinea’s physicality.

12.) New Zealand – They stuck with what they knew most (the long ball), and it paid off. For a while. Just have to make the full 90 and not have lapses of concentration in defense.  

13.) Equatorial Guinea – Only so low because Anonma couldn’t get a shot on frame. That demoted her performance from being great to above average. The team’s skill on the ball and ability to stay compact was impressive. Just have to avoid fatigue.   

14.) North Korea – Again, only so low because they couldn’t find a goal. North Korea hardly mishandled or miskicked a ball in the first half, but then totally capitulated in the second.

15.) Colombia – Rodallega looks to be a real player, and she gave Colombia’s attack some life in lieu of an absent Rincon. They had some good sequences but never quite came together to work as a team.

16.) Nigeria – Their basement-level placement is deceptive; Nigeria held their own against France and remained defensively compact. Nkowcha (or anybody, really) needs to be more dangerous in the attack, though.

13 thoughts on “By Now We’ve Seen Everyone Play, So Here Are a Few Notes

  1. Pompey Canuck

    There are a lot of unattached players in this World Cup, do you think they are headed to WPS? W-League? France? Germany? Also players like Rodallega that are based in Colombia could easily move to a high profile league. Is there any word about which clubs or leagues are looking to grab a lot of talent on the cheap?

    I like the rankings I think they are fairly spot on. I have Germany, Canada, England, Japan, Sweden, USA, Brazil, and Australia advancing to the knockout stages.

    Reply
    1. Jenna Pel Post author

      There are loads of people more qualified than me to answer that first question, but logic would suggest yes. And that’s another reason why one hopes that WPS can make it to a fourth year. The World Cup has put them in the shop window. Perhaps a few will land in North America in a league(s) that remain sustainable.

      My France pick isn’t looking very good right about now, but hey, we’ll see how they perform against Germany tomorrow.

      Reply
      1. Jao

        Why so quick to slightly turn on France? I attribute the team’s insipid performance against Nigeria down to first-game jitters and crappy finishing. Defense is a little and I mean a little shaky. The main issue right now is whether Bini has the heart to drop captain Soubeyrand from the starting eleven. Sooubeyrand out allows Abily to play in the middle, which is where she excels. Though Bussaglia is primarily an attacker, she is capable of dropping back to play in Soubeyrand’s role as a holding mid if necessary. Le Sommer or Thomis on one wing and Necib on the other and Thiney partnering Delie. Thiney’s the only other “legit” striker on the team besides Delie, unless you play someone off Delie just behind her, which in case could be Le Sommer. The third striker, Sandrine Bretigny, was brought on the team to be nothing more than a super-sub.

        Reply
        1. Jenna Pel Post author

          Definitely not reneging on my “France for the semifinals” pick, I guess I’ve just gotten caught up in the “Christine Sinclair is so awesome – Canada are so endearing” love fest. Their second half performance inspires some confidence – hopefully they’ll kick on from here.

          I, like you, am most curious to see what Bini does with his starting XI.

          Reply
  2. TDK

    Not bad, but I think a bit skewed in parts by the opponent. Some examples:

    Japan we knew would be skilled in possession play and would lack a cutting edge. But they were playing New Zealand! If they could manage just the two against the Ferns they’re in trouble later on. Similarly Sweden were much too wasteful against an outmatched opponent.

    I’d put Canada ahead of Japan. Fullbacks were a disaster and they couldn’t fashion much offense, but this was against a side that brought on Grings, Popp, and Bajmaraj as subs!

    France and Norway didn’t seem to know what to expect in the African sides and took awhile to figure them out. But now that everyone has shown its hand, the other teams know a bit more how to adjust. E.g., you’ll never be offside against EqG because at least one defender will drop too deep. Still like France to go through, but with both France and Canada in must win situations, too tight to call for me.

    We looked great in the second half, but it seemed to me that NK backed off a bit to start that half. If they’d continued pressing the way they did most of the first half it’s not at all clear to me that we’d have looked so good.

    I think you hit it with the lack of preparation for Brazil. It looks like they’re using the group stage to do that. Hard to get a sense of what their form will be after a few matches, only that it will no doubt be better. And I can’t remember a goal ever like that: a close-marking defender inside a triangle made up of Rosana’s legs and the trajectory of the ball from one foot to the other. Crazy.

    Wasn’t so impressed by Australia, they looked slow and unimaginative against a disorganized Brazil. Or by England, though that’s partly on Powell (why not Clarke or White instead of Aluko?) And Mexico, once they got a little confidence, were indeed a pleasant surprise.

    Reply
  3. Marshall

    Dear Santa,

    Here’s the list of things I want for Christmas:

    1) I’d like our Brazilian soccer Federation (CBF) to work like our volleyball one (CBV), with the same level of professionalism… With the women’s game just as important as the men’s, with adequate preparation towards a big tournament;

    2) I’d like to have a WNT coach like our volleyball coaches, who start planning the next tournament the day after a tournament ends, who actually have a plan for the future, who knows a lot about the sport they coach (like Bernardinho, who gets crazy with the team when they are up 2 sets to none, when they are up 24-11 in the third set, if they don’t run the plays the way he wants), who make substitutions that change the outcome of a match, and doesn’t use players out of their positions unless extremely necessary… and win just about every tournament they play for, like, 11 years;

    3) I’d like you to find where Daniela Alves is and insert her in Brazil’s midfield;

    … Is it possible for you to make all those things happen about 6 months before Christmas? Please? I promise I’ll be a good boy.

    … I just realized I should have posted this on Santa’s blog, but anyways…

    Reply
      1. Marshall

        I didn’t know that, Marcelo.

        But I believe Santa Claus is totally capable of solve this “minor bump” out, right? 🙂

        Reply
  4. IzzyWSU

    hahahahaha great Marshall, I promise I’ll be a good girl too, if Santa make all those things happen!

    Reply
  5. J

    Thanks for posting that video of the men in 1970. I also don’t truck much with comparing men’s to women’s sports, but that video might be enlightening, for those whose dismissal of women’s football is based solely on speed of play.

    Reply
    1. Marshall

      Speaking of soccer, volleyball and speed of play, I also like to watch women’s volleyball a little more than men’s exactly because of that: less power and speed, the ball takes longer to get to the ground, hence providing more exciting rallies.

      Reply

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