The thing about a tournament in soccer (or in any sport for that matter) is that it really doesn’t matter how well or how poorly you played in your last game.
The goal is simple and clear: advance to the next round. There are no style points, and – unlike in a championship that is won over the long haul – dropped points are erased when you get to the next round.
And so those first two games where Germany struggled and France looked unbeatable, they have been quickly forgotten. While England at times had trouble getting out of their own way, and Japan was doing their best Barcelona impersonation, that has been pushed past the back burner all the way off the stage.
But it’s also a warning that things could flip the other way just as easily. I picked France to go the finals because I thought they could beat England, and maybe catch Brazil off guard. I still like those picks, despite what happened today.
I also picked Germany over the United States in the semifinals, and I’d like to say Germany just had a good day today, but I’m not so sure.
Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 10 of Germany 2011.
1) That was the Japan we thought we might see in the World Cup
My worst pick appears to be not having Japan go through, and the reasons were what you saw today. They were still able to move the ball, and had the territorial advantage, but there was no end product. There wasn’t really much that make you think there was going to be an end product.
2) Hello, Ellen White
You hear things like the women’s Wayne Rooney and one of the next big stars on the women’s scene, and you just didn’t see it in the first two games (of course, in the opening draw against Mexico, she didn’t even start, which looks a tad inexplicable now). But, even though the first goal had a hint of shoddy goalkeeping, Smith was dangerous and a complete handful for the Japanese defense for most of the match, one they didn’t have in their first two games. Karney Carney wasn’t too bad, either, including the assist on the second goal.
3) A little redemption for Karen Bardsley, too
Those of us that have watched WPS at least a little have seen that Bardsley has the ability (including physically, obviously) to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but the goal from distance against Mexico could not have helped her confidence. But she was tremendous today, possibly the best performance by a keeper at the World Cup.
4) It doesn’t mean much going forward, though
As I said in the opening, it is a great accomplishment to win the group, and I’m sure they’re happy to avoid Germany in the quarterfinals, but I think it’s still a toss-up at best in the England-France match (and that should be a good one). Obviously, just on today’s performances, maybe England was better, but as we’ve seen already, things change from game to game.
5) Mexico can leave with their heads held very high
It’s tough to get respect when you play in CONCACAF, and you’re not named the United States or Canada, but Mexico showed they were well deserving of their berth in this World Cup. They’ll be upset at giving up two goals in the closing minutes to New Zealand, but they may make things fairly difficult for the two big powers in the next few years, although they’ll likely have to do it without Maribel Dominguez, who has had a fine career. How they wish she was a decade younger.
6) Simone Laudehr might be the best player in the world not named Marta
She had probably been Germany’s best player in their first two matches, but she was on a different level today. She sets up as a holding midfielder, but when she can run box-to-box as she did a little in the first match, and did a lot of today, she just adds so much to the German attack. However ….
7) Laudehr (and a bunch of others) probably shouldn’t have been on the field today
I could be completely off here, but is there that much incentive to winning this group to play anyone with a yellow card? But both teams did.
Take it one step further, why would you play anyone you thought you were going to need in the quarterfinals? It’s tough to predict red cards, certainly, but now France has to face the quarterfinals without their starting goalkeeper (Berange Sapowicz).
(Was it a red card? It looked like there was a covering defender coming behind Sapowicz, and she might not have been the last man. Of course, there is no such things as “last man” in the FIFA Laws, it says “denying a goal scoring opportunity”, and I guess that was certainly a goal scoring opportunity just six yards from goal and the net virtually empty.)
I’ve talked about the tight schedule, and how many games these teams have had to play in a short period of time, but both these teams had most of their starters out on the field for 90 minutes today.
Obviously, the France attack is completely different with Marie-Laure Delie on the field, but would a full week’s rest have set her up for a big quarterfinal against England? Some players were rested, so why not rest everyone you can?
8 ) It might be a sad ending to the World Cup career of Birgit Prinz
I made a slight mistake in how I worded saying that Marta had caught Michelle Akers with 12 World Cup goals. Obviously, Prinz is still the overall leader with 14.
But that may be it. After today’s game, you can’t see Prinz starting the quarterfinal. And if they win that, she probably won’t start the rest of the way (and if they lose, they’re out and done). The only way you can see her getting back on the field is if Germany trails and needs a goal in the late stages of a match. It might not happen.
9) Nigeria deserves some credit for this World Cup, too
Off the field controversy notwithstanding (and maybe the second half against Germany), Nigeria was organized, and really not that far off against the toughest group the World Cup had to offer, a long way from where they were four years ago, and even longer from a decade ago when African teams simply couldn’t compete.
Their win today was no fluke, they were the better team against Canada, and Rita Chekwulu would make my Best XI from this World Cup. She was outstanding in her holding midfield role, and the biggest reason why they only conceded twice in the tournament.
If they can keep their act together, they might be the first African team to get out of the group stages in four years. Canada hopes it isn’t against them.
10) It was a sad ending for Christine Sinclair and Canada, but…
Today’s game reminded me a lot of the United States’ final game against Iran in the 1998 Men’s World Cup. The U.S. was out, they had little motivation, and would just outplayed by a hungrier Iran side. Obviously, there will be some fingers pointed at Carolina Morace.
Fittingly, Nigeria’s winner came right after a power outage delayed action in the match for 11 minutes, as if anything else could go wrong at this World Cup. We can only hope Sinclair can be in decent form when Canada hosts this tournament in four years. That U.S. team that was embarrassed in 1998 came back to have their best ever World Cup performance four years later, reaching the quarterfinals, and they weren’t even at home.
Zonal marking is stupid
I don’t always agree with the commentators on ESPN, but I think they’re right here. I don’t get it, I really don’t.
Belief is the best of things
This is not commentary, but the summer soccer camp circuit started this week. A little 8-year old girl was sporting the old gold U.S. women’s jersey, and I asked her if she knew why there were two stars on the back collar.
She didn’t know, but her 10-year old sister butted into the conversation:
“That’s how many World Cups the United States has won. But they’ll have one more in a couple of weeks.”
Hopefully, the team has the same level of confidence.