Six Things That Happened on the Fourth Day of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Canada got bowled over in Bochum – and it was brutal.

It was a performance that seemed completely out of character.  Carolina Morace’s side set up in its favored 4-3-3 with a battle-worn – and face mask-wearing – Christine Sinclair fronting the line. In the early going Big Red looked up to the challenge and rangy central midfielder Diana Matheson nearly got off a shot off in the penalty area. But the tide turned in the 24th minute as Gaetane Thiney nodded in a scrappy goal to give France the advantage.

At halftime, Morace needed to figure out how to close down an enterprising Louisa Necib and get Sinclair more involved in the match. Canada saw a bit more of the ball, but appeared too rattled to retain possession to make it count. France, meanwhile, seemingly made the most of every goal-scoring opportunity the team had earned. Perhaps most disappointing of all, Canada failed to show the mental steel it had against Germany.

The team got completely demolished, conceding three goals in a span of 23 minutes – each more demoralizing than the previous. France’s spellbinding technical precision and swift movement forced Canada to revert to its old tactics of lumping up long balls – despite the fact Sinclair was unable to head a ball.

It was difficult to derive much pleasure from watching France thoroughly outclass a disoriented Canada side. By the time Elodie Thomis rolled the ball into an open net for France’s fourth, it just hurt.

Morace needs to be credited for this new-look Canada team, even if it certainly didn’t live up to its best today. The team has also made significant strides off-the-field that will have long lasting benefits.

And with all that progress in mind, it’s just weird to think that Canada’s World Cup journey (effectively) ends here. The team has managed just one shot on goal in two matches and look perilously close to setting an all-time record for least goals scored in a World Cup (the record is three back in the 1999 edition. Canada needs to score at least two goals against Nigeria to equal that mark). Shocking.

Canada will have to shake off the bitter disappointment of 2011 and look forward to coming home in 2015.

 

Les Bleues validated their dark horse credentials.

Did France put forth the most comprehensive performance of the tournament so far? Quite possibly. Against Nigeria France looked a step out of sorts. The team came together and kicked on after Delie’s goal, however. It was the same set of circumstances today. After Thiney’s goal, the team surged ahead and really showed its quality. The impact of developing at Clairefontaine and having 10 players at Lyon really shone through in the team’s technical ability. France hardly put a pass wrong in the second half and finished with tremendous efficiency. It was rather beautiful.

If goals are the catalyst for tremendous performances, perhaps this match gives France the momentum needed for a deep run. Look out.

 

Nigeria got down and dirty after playing well enough to pip a result.

As Ray writes below, Nigeria’s rope-a-dope tactics are the big talking points. The match really boiled over as the match wore on, thanks in part to referee Cha Sung Mi’s failure to impose her authority in the first half, thereby enabling Nigeria to up the brutality in the second.

The thing is it didn’t have to get to that level. Nigeria’s exceptional defensive performance in the first half will likely be forgotten. Nigeria had Germany on the ropes, batting away every incoming cross while disrupting the hosts’ passing rhythm. It was a defensive master class that drew hisses of dissatisfaction from the capacity Frankfurt crowd. The question was whether Nigeria could sustain it in the second. They couldn’t and instead resorted to brutal fouls.  

With nothing left to play for, it’s a wonder whether Canada will be the victims of such rough treatment.

 

Germany emerged bruised, battered, victorious.

Simone Laudehr’s well-controlled shot from a free kick nine minutes into the half gave Germany the lead and ratcheted up the violence thereafter. Germany had endured marginally harsh fouls in the first interval that sent Melanie Behringer and Babett Peter to the sidelines, but the second half was a different matter. As the match inched closer to the final whistle, Nigeria grew more frustrated and let Germany have it. Alexandra Popp and Nadine Angerer sustained truly egregious fouls that went unjustly unpunished.

Despite the scrappy win, Germany’s performance provokes some concern. The team looked alarmingly incapable of breaking through Nigeria’s deep-lying defensive line. Nigeria had successfully cut off Germany’s supply lines on the wings and through the center channel. Germany’s best chances came from hopeful shots from 25 yards out, as Nigeria had completely blockaded the final third. Neid’s team seemed content with the set piece goal, and didn’t aggressively seek another.

With two less-than-perfect group stage matches in the bag, are these signs of Germany cracking under the pressure? They could face their stiffest tests against France. 

 

Sundhage hinted that more changes were coming.  

ESPN’s Bob Holtzman reported that Lori Lindsey could get the nod to start in midfield in Saturday’s match against Colombia in place of either Carli Lloyd or Shannon Boxx. The fact that Lloyd and Boxx have been the U.S.’ most consistent starters over the past year makes the move particularly surprising – and perhaps encouraging. As has been observed in many places, Boxx looked completely drained against North Korea.

If Boxx gets the hook (which seems likely), the midfield will lose a defensive dimension which may or not matter against Colombia. Lori Lindsey had a memorable match against Germany last May in which she started alongside Boxx. Lindsey’s distribution is probably her best asset, which could come in handy if Lloyd is expected to be the player to battle and win balls.

Sundhage is showing that she’s not against shaking things up when it matters most. This newfound sense of adventure can silence critics and remove any sense of complacency in the squad itself. Good signs.   

 

This World Cup continues to enthrall.

Yes, there haven’t been that many goals, but there haven’t been any throwaway matches either. Day four provided the most suspense and surprise yet. Unfortunately for Big Red, Canada produced the first truly subpar performance of the tournament.

Group A was supposed to be one of the more straightforward groups in the tournament, too. France and Canada were expected to duke it out for second. Germany was the foregone leaders while Nigeria was to tipped be one of – if not the – weakest teams in the tournament. It’s wild to think a scenario in which Germany doesn’t top the group could very well come to fruition.

Imagine what the rest of the group matches hold.

And then there was the electric atmosphere in Frankfurt. It made the match seem like an event. It seemed like an alternate universe compared to years of watching club soccer played before sparsely attended, inaudible audiences both in the U.S. and in Europe. It was heaven. 

The crowd wanted the best from its national team, and jeered when it didn’t get it. The fact that it was a women’s soccer game was a non-issue – the expectations were all the same.

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