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Olympics – What We Learned: Semifinals – France 1:2 Japan

With all of the talk about the United States and Canada – for good reason, obviously – the Japan-France semifinal, a pretty darn good game of its own, got a little lost in these parts. But from the better late than never department, for consistency and posterity, and in leading into both the gold and bronze medal games on Thursday, I figured I’d give you a quick recap. It was honestly a fairly dreadful first half, but it certainly sprung to life in the second. In the end, Japan – as it seems like they’ve done 421 times in the last year or so, did just enough, which they’ll hope to do one more time Thursday:

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Olympics – What We Learned: Quarterfinals – Sweden 1:2 France

Well, I had 2-1 France as the final score in this game, and I’ll take full credit for it, but I didn’t exactly expect it to go down like this. In the end, Sweden had France exactly where they wanted them: down a goal, questioning themselves in the back, they even had a chance or two to go 2-0 up. But – before halftime no less – they had imploded twice on set pieces, and never really recovered. In a way it’s just Sweden being Sweden of late, good enough to compete with the best, but just not quite good enough to topple them. Meanwhile, for France, respect or no respect, here they are again in a major tournament semifinal with a chance to really announce their presence on the world scene:

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Olympics – Matchday 3: What We Learned – France 1:0 Colombia

If you truly believe in France, your glass is half full heading into the quarterfinals. Sure, they had a meltdown against the United States, but they hadn’t faced an attack like that in forever and it was the first game of the tournament. They struggled against North Korea, but eventually buried them and would have done the same against Colombia if they could have finished one of their 612 (estimated) chances in the game.

However, if your glass is half empty, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and crew exposed a relatively slow and quite average international defense. Their inability to really put away North Korea and Colombia also shows that while they’re obviously one of the most improved teams in the world in the last few years, they’re not ready to win a gold medal here at the Olympics, especially with a bracket that includes Sweden, Brazil, and Japan. Maybe in three years.

Where do I stand? Safe to say somewhere in the middle. How’s that for a cop-out?

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Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – France 5:0 North Korea

Just as I talked about the “small margins” being the difference between winning and losing at a tournament like this, there are also “small moments” that decide games and allow teams to gain momentum. France looked slow, lethargic, plodding, just about any other synonym you could use in the first half, but just before they were about to go to the locker room to try to figure out what the hell was wrong, they get a corner kick, Laura Georges finds herself unmarked two yards from goal, France is relieved, and go on to destroy North Korea. But even with a big scoreline, I still have some questions.

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Olympics – Day 1: What We Learned – United States 4:2 France

(For those that were here during last year’s World Cup, first of all, thank you. Second, we’re going to tweak the format slightly because there were so many games in just one day. So instead of one post, you’ll get six. The longest will be the United States games, we’re going to assume you watched that one, so it won’t have a recap, just Things We Learned. The other games will give a quick recap and just a couple of Things We Learned. As with the World Cup, hopefully this will be a little bit of an interactive discussion. Within reason, of course. So without further ado:)

After the United States got all the momentum against France today, Brandi Chastain talked for a good minute about the mental side of the game and how the Americans had such an edge because they had been there before and that’s the way they played. To be honest, it was more than a little pretentious, especially if you weren’t American (alas, I’m sure most of her audience was). After all, the Japanese had made the U.S. look pretty ordinary at times in the World Cup final, and the French had plenty of the play in their Cup semifinal defeat.

But when you looked at the body language of the two teams today in the second half, it was really hard to argue with her. France – winners of 17 straight games and apparently ready to take over the women’s soccer world – looked physically and mentally spent. The U.S. looked neither. And when the States finally went ahead, there didn’t seem to be any way the French were coming back.

It’s always hard to pinpoint how much the “mental game” means. Obviously, if I show up with a team like Colombia and my mental game is perfect, I’m still going to need a lot of luck to even stay in the game, let alone get a result. But when a team like the U.S., which has won all but one gold medal that’s been offered at the Olympics in women’s soccer, dispatches of what still might be the best team technically in the world with relative ease after going down two goals in the first 20 minutes, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Here’s what we learned from the U.S. and France in Day 1:

1)      Alex Morgan is legit

I mean we knew that already, but with all the talk of how she looks and what kind of bikinis she wears in photoshoots, she’s at least one of the best strikers in the world right now. The way she times her runs, her speed, and her ability to finish give the U.S. somewhat of an added dimension they didn’t have last year (when Morgan was mostly a super sub). Combined with Abby Wambach, it’s hard to argue Pia Sundhage’s move back to a 4-4-2.

2)      It’s hard to see the U.S. not scoring goals

Lauren Cheney didn’t do a heck of a lot today, but you saw glimpses, and then you throw in Megan Rapinoe, Wambach, and Morgan, is anyone really going to be able to keep them quiet for 90 minutes? Even if you sit back, it seems like it’s only going to be a matter of time before a Rapinoe cross finds Wambach’s head (and what a header today for the first goal). If you try to press, Morgan will get behind you at some point. The only thing that may slow them down is the lack of outside backs getting forward (especially Amy LePeilbet), but they may not need it.

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20 (or 12) Questions With Anson Dorrance

Courtesy University of North Carolina

We have time for one more of our 20 Questions (actually this is only 12, but there’s some good info in there) feature before this glorious World Cup comes to a close, and – perhaps the most legendary women’s soccer coach of all-time (at least in our country) – Anson Dorrance was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time from the road.

Dorrance will soon begin his 33rd season as women’s coach at North Carolina where he has won an outrageous 21 national titles (20 NCAA), but he was also the coach of the very first World Cup champions, leading the United States to the 1991 title in China.

And to slip in a book recommendation, as a women’s soccer coach and fan, “The Man Watching”, a biography on Dorrance and story of the remarkable UNC dynasty is one of my top five books of all-time.

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Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: U.S. Semifinal Victory Edition

It was former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards who went on this rant in 2002, with the money quote, of course, being:
“You play to win the game.”
Less infamously, he continued, “You don’t play it to just play it. That’s the great thing about sports. You play to win.”
Edwards’ speech has – somewhat rightfully so, don’t get me wrong – been relegated to the comedy files, mostly because Edwards’ coaching career in the NFL was pretty forgettable (see: mostly mediocre).
But the message isn’t necessarily a bad one.
Yes, France was more technically sound than the United States today. Yes, Japan will probably be more technical in the final. Both can pass the ball better and probably had a better first touch overall than the U.S.
France clearly won the possession battle, and Japan probably will – by a wider margin – on Sunday.
Is that something we should strive for when we’re developing our players? Absolutely.
However, you play to win the game, and the United States has won in the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
They’ve done it through hard work, superior fitness, athleticism, better ability in the air, having the best goalkeeper in the world, and – yes – a little but of luck.
Those are the reasons why they’ll win in the finals as well.
You can say a lot of things, but you can’t say France was “better”, and neither was Brazil.
This isn’t a figure skating competition where we’re judging artistry, the rules are pretty simple: you score more goals than the other team and you advance.
(I’m not advocating cheating or gamesmanship, that’s a whole different element.)
Little known fact about Edwards and the 2002 Jets, they won seven of their next nine games, and pulled an upset in the playoffs before bowing out in the conference semifinals.
Maybe it’s the American attitude in me, maybe it’s because much of my playing career was spent against (and with) players that were probably better technically than me, but (and obviously not at younger ages, I understand) there is only one goal when you get to a World Cup and that is to bring home the trophy.
You play to win the game.
The United States only has to win one more.

Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 18 of Germany 2011.

1) Goalkeeping is the most important position on the field

We talked early on about goalkeeping being an issue at this World Cup, and the U.S. had a massive advantage again, and again put it to good use.
While none of the U.S. goals were complete goalkeeping calamities, you were never comfortable watching Berange Sapowicz in goal today, and that surely has an effect on the team.
Meanwhile, at the other end, you just sort of laughed when the French tried more than a few long-range shots.
Sorry, you’re not beating Hope Solo from there, France.
The first U.S. goal (which I’ll get to in a second) was a good example. It actually started with a Solo save on a pretty good Louisa Necib shot. Obviously, that resulted in a corner, Solo eventually got a hold of it, and less than 30 seconds later, the U.S. had a 1-0 lead.
There’s a lot in between, but it starts with the keeper.

2) France was better technically, but the U.S. had some good (and pivotal touches) as well

Back to the first goal, it was on a pseudo-counter, which helped the United States greatly in the end.
Carli Lloyd found herself on the left touchline, Shannon Boxx played her the ball, and Lloyd came up with a nifty backheel to find Heather O’Reilly (who had also popped up on the left momentarily).
Lloyd’s touch took right back Laure Lepailleur out of the play, center back Laura Georges had to come over and cover and that was a speed battle that O’Reilly was always going to win.
(Ironically, Georges probably should have known that. While Georges was ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Boston College in 2006, O’Reilly was also on the All-ACC First Team that season.)
Lauren Cheney’s deft touch finished the movement, and just like that a huge goal was scored.
But without Lloyd’s backheel, they probably get nothing.
Alex Morgan’s goal to seal it was also a very skillful touch as well that obviously led to another U.S. tally.

3) Don’t want to bring up Dawn Scott again, but…

You have to, don’t you? The U.S. fitness shined again in this match as just when it seemed they were getting tired of chasing France around the field, they seemed to get a second wind and took the game back in the last 20 minutes.
Again, I’m repeating myself, but you don’t know how hard it is to play as many minutes as these women have in the past few weeks and not get fatigued.
And it’s not like the U.S. is a young team, players like Boxx and Wambach have logged a lot of minutes in their careers and – those two particularly – looked strongest at the end of the game.
Of course, some credit goes to….

4) Pia Sundhage again seemed to press the right buttons

The Alex Morgan substitution made sense, but Megan Rapinoe for Lloyd in the 65th minute of a tie game? In retrospect, Lauren Cheney was in the middle most of the time anyway, and Rapinoe’s energy seemed to be contagious for the rest of the squad.
Leaving Amy Lepeilbet on the outside and inserting Becky Sauerbrunn worked as well.
Meanwhile, Bruno Bini’s move to take Marie-Laure Delie off in favor of Eugenie LeSommer at halftime seemed to be a good one, despite its awkwardness, but the U.S. scored twice in four minutes after he made an attacking sub with Elodie Thomis for captain Sandrine Soubeyrand in the 78th minute.
That wasn’t the main reason for the French collapse, but it probably didn’t help.

5) The France 4-2-3-1 did give the U.S. fits, but they couldn’t cash in

As we surmised, trying to matchup with a Necib the way the U.S. was set up proved to be a big problem. Early in the match, the strategy was to have one of the back four step up and pressure, which worked for a little while.
But once Necib found holes and/or Lloyd and Boxx gave the ball away in dangerous positions, Necib has her space.
At that point, though, the U.S. defense did well. They didn’t dive in, held their ground, and forced Necib to either shoot from outside the box or try to play a perfect pass to a teammate. Necib is great on the ball, but her decision-making wasn’t quite quick enough, and the U.S. was able to get back just in time on a few occasions.
(There were a couple of times that Necib was very close. In the 29th minute, Necib played a through ball to Gaetane Thiney, but Solo was there to save the day.)
That will be the next step for France or what Japan will look to do on Sunday, can they quickly take advantage of an exposed U.S. defense in the 4-4-2 before they recover.
We shall see.

6) France still should leave with their heads high, though

They easily could have won this game (they probably think they should have won) and certainly have to be in the discussion in the best teams in the world right now.
They’re not as young, though, as they were made out to be on the broadcast. This is probably the end for Soubeyrand and Bompastor, although you’d think everyone else will be around for Canada 2015.
You’d hope the French people support their team a little better. Reports from Monchengladbach were that there were very few French fans in attendance.

7) Becky Sauerbrunn was fine in a huge spot

You didn’t notice Sauerbrunn much in this match, and a good center back can often work like a good referee, the less you notice her, the better match she had.
Interesting note, Sauerbrunn (playing for Virginia) was also on the 2006 All-ACC Team with O’Reilly and Georges.
I still think Sundhage goes back to Rachel Buehler for the final, though, but we’ll see.

8) The winning goal was a disaster all around for France, but good hustle from the U.S. caused it

In the minutes before the goal, the subs Morgan and Rapinoe were using their energy to put pressure on the French, and the winning goal started with an awful clearance by Sapowicz that basically hit Rapinoe, and eventually became a corner kick.
It was 5-foot-7 Lepailleur who was picked to mark Wambach (would it have been Delie if she was still in the game?), and that went horribly wrong quickly.
As I would tell my players, “She’s going to the goal eventually, isn’t she?” But Wambach was two steps ahead of Lepailleur early, there was no one on the back post, Sapowicz couldn’t get there, and the rest is history.
(By the way, what Wambach did on that play was as brilliant as anything else in this game. The way she shook her mark, used her body as a shield, and knew exactly where to go to finish? Those are skills you can’t really teach, at least the hunger part of that.)
You’d think if there was one player you wouldn’t want to beat you, it would be Wambach. And that’s what makes her so good.
(And, yes, for those of you that have read this throughout the World Cup, I’m fully aware that it was a man marking problem and not a zonal marking problem. That happens sometimes, too.)

9) It’s cold in Germany in the summer sometimes

Even here in the Northeast (U.S.), it gets pretty hot in July, but watching the game today, we saw plenty of winter coats in the stands (and on Bruno Bini).
That probably helped with the fitness of both teams.

10) So it’s Japan in the final

A great matchup, but one I tend to like for the United States, although I said the same with Germany and then picked Sweden to beat them in the semifinals, so what do I know?
The danger will be if Kozue Ando can find the room that Necib did today, but we’ll have plenty more on the matchup Friday night.
One thing I will say is that I’m very happy for the Japanese, who deserve everything they’ve gotten at the World Cup. Great story, and they seem like a class act all the way around.

Bonus:

Hopefully, Ali Krieger is OK

She finished the match, but never looked 100 percent after going down midway through the second half.
It’s obviously not serious, but the U.S. is going to need her at her best (and she’s been one of the best players in the tournament) for the final.

Double bonus:

Did a man buy the U.S. uniforms?

Not soccer related, but it seems like we guard against the “see-through effect” when we buy our uniforms for girls at our club (or for boys or girls when you have white shorts).
But at least Alex Morgan matches.

U.S.-France Semifinal Preview: Beware Delie, Necib, And The 4-2-3-1

A few months ago, Richard Farley (who does an excellent job over at Foxsoccer.com, where you can find the suddenly ubiquitous Jenna as well) and I started to predict what was going to happen in the Women’s World Cup.

I had just seen the U.S. get taken apart by England (at least in the first half) in a friendly, saw England had a relatively easy group, and told Richard that England might be able to make it all the way to the finals to face Germany.

(I was never sold on Brazil for reasons that I don’t have time to get into here, but they had to do with disorganization in the federation, etc.)

Richard countered with France. Typical Farley, I thought, pick an obscure squad that no one else was going to look at. France wasn’t going to touch Germany, and had CONCACAF champion Canada in their group. There was no way.

Of course, truth be told, although I don’t like to admit it publicly, Richard is usually correct in these arguments.

And, another truth be told, I hadn’t really done any research on the subject (which is probably why Richard is usually right most of the time, shocking how that works). The more I looked at France, the more I was impressed. There were some curious results (like losing to Holland in the Cyprus Cup in the spring), sure, but it was most certainly a program on its way up.

After going to the finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2010 with a good chunk of the French national team, Lyon won it in 2011 impressively over German opposition (Turbine Potsdam), and by wiping out England’s best team – Arsenal – in the semifinals.

The French women’s league is probably the third best league in the world. Montpellier, which went to the Champions League quarterfinals in 2010, finished fourth domestically – even with French goal scoring machine Marie-Laure Delie leading the way – and didn’t even qualify for the Champions League last year.

You add in a veteran coach in Bruno Bini, a supportive federation, and the World Cup right next door, and you’ve got yourselves a sleeper.

If France finished second behind Germany, it would likely get England in the quarterfinals, and France could take them, which would likely get them Brazil in the semis. And so, I picked a France-Germany final (yea, I had the U.S. losing to Germany in the semis. Sorry.)

And so, here we are, the United States and France in the semifinals. Perhaps we shouldn’t be that surprised. And we certainly shouldn’t think this will be an easy game for the U.S.

Here are the five things to look for in Wednesday’s semifinal (11:30 a.m., ESPN):
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Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Day 10

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.

Bonus:

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.

Double bonus:

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.

Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Day 5

It was the best of the women’s game, but it was also the worst of the women’s game Thursday at the Women’s World Cup.

We saw France pick what appeared to be a more athletic Canada side apart with better ball control, more precise passing, looking like the “Barcelona of the women’s game” (although, as a few people have pointed out, just because a team can string four passes together doesn’t mean they should be compared to Barcelona), in an absolute rout.

Then we saw Nigeria, with a great deal of success, try to bully their way to a result against heavily favored Germany, in a match that will be remembered more for the number of injuries and fouls (and a little bit of curious officiating) than for the actual play on the field.

But you have to take the good with the bad when you cover a tournament, and I’ll try to make sense of the Thursday proceedings here.

And so, without further ado, here are the 10 things we learned in Day 5 of Germany 2011.

1) France’s win could reverberate further than just today

We’ve heard rumblings that the game is gettign more technical, that the days of just physically beating an opponent into submission (see: Norway in the 90s) were dead. I’ve read from Anson Dorrance and Even Pellerud on how the women’s game may never really evolve that way, and that athleticism will always win out (Dorrance has changed his tune slightly, Pellerud – who admittedly has had great success – really hasn’t).
For the first 15 minutes, Canada was buzzing, but once France settled down, they did circles around the Canadians, they were better passers, better dribblers, just played the game better, and there was little Canada could do to stop it.
Can France go all the way this way? Possibly, but…

2) Maybe the physicality thing is not quite dead yet

I’m torn with Nigeria’s performance against Germany. Part of me wants to congratulate their organization, and the fact that they’ve come a long way since an 8-0 drubbing in a friendly just six months ago. They battled, clawed, and made things difficult for Germany at every turn.
However, saying it was an ugly match would be generous. It set a Women’s World Cup record for fouls, saw more bodies on the ground than in the previous nine games combined seemingly, and saw very few movements that resembled anything beautiful like France was putting together.
The age old question, of course, is what are the Nigerians to do? Take a beating and smile? They did what they thought was best to try to win the game. It’s up to Germany (and the officials) to break them down. And today they couldn’t.

3) Scorelines don’t necessarily dictate how one-sided a game was

No one is debating that Canada deserved to get a result or anything, but if Canada could have stuck one in (and they were physically dominating the French in the first 15 minutes), who knows? Diana Matheson had a great chance in the 15th minute, it went begging, France was on the board 10 minutes later, and they never looked back from there. But if that first one goes in.

4) Ironically, France’s first goal came off a strong tackle

Canadian holding midfielder Sophie Schmidt was off to a good start in the match, took a touch in the 24th minute and thought she had time to clear. But her counterpart Elise Bussaglia came in with a hard (and clean) tackle, played a quick 1-2 with Louisa Necib, and Gaetane Thiney was at the far post to put France in front, and – as I stated before – it was all France after that.
Even Thiney’s second goal could be attributed to pressure. This time Emily Zurrer thought she had more time, Marie-Laure Delie got in the way of the clearance, and Thiney’s blast from outside the box was perfect. But it doesn’t happen without the pressure.

5) France looked much more comfortable with a formation tweak

Bruno Bini was in a little bit of a bind, as he pulled captain Sandrine Soubeyrand at halftime of the opener against Nigeria in his 4-5-1 to get more on the attack, moving Elise Bussaglia – whom he started wide – into that role.
Many thought he would make that switch permanent against Canada, but he wanted his veteran captain on the field, so he went to a 4-2-3-1 with Bussaglia and Soubeyrand holding. It allowed Louisa Necib to play in front of them and have more of the ball, and it worked very well after the first few minutes.
Whether France will have that same kind of success against Germany, or in the knockout stages, remains to be seen.

6) It was a sad end for Christine Sinclair and Canada

Under Pellerud eight years ago, Canada actually had the lead in the semifinals against Sweden before two late goals killed their dream. But the goal scorer in that game typifies Canada, Kara Lang was 16 when she scored. Eight years later, Lang is retired due to persistent knee injuries. Christine Latham, who also had some big goals in that tournament having just turned 22, but isn’t around anymore, either. Brittany Timko and Diana Matheson, both teenage starters during that World Cup, never developed into stars.
Which leaves Christine Sinclair, who should be around at 32 when Canada hosts the World Cup in 2015, but the current crop doesn’t look as promising as 2003.
But four years is a long time, Canada did win the Gold Cup in the winter, and Jonelle Filigno (20) looks like a potential star, so we’ll see.

7) You can bash Nigeria, but Germany wasn’t good today, either

The ball just moved too slow, and you wonder how much offense Silvia Neid is going to be able to generate with Kim Kulig and Simone Laudehr both as holding midfielers (although, as she did on the goal, Laudehr did get forward a bit today). Birgit Prinz was not a happy camper, and Neid has to make a tough decision and soon, to cut her loose (sit her) and go with Alexandra Popp, or stick with her. A very, very tough one indeed.

8) I’m not sure what we wanted Nigeria to do

Ngozi Uche (and her German staff) know if they come out and play a wide open game, they may get run over. So they turn to the style which they played today. It was borderline hideous and fairly gruesome to watch. But it gave them the best chance to win, didn’t it? That is the object, no?
Holding midfielder Rita Chekwelu has had two very good games and it’s a shame to see her wrapped up with the rest. But, unless someone changes the rules, that’s the way it’s going to go, we saw plenty of it at the Men’s World Cup last summer as well.

9) It may not be worth it to win Group A

It may be slightly embarrassing for the Germans not to win their group when they’re hosting the World Cup, but I take a long look at sitting some people and getting them a rest if I’m Neid and Bini in the last group match.
The likely road to the Cup for the winners of Group A: England, United States, Brazil.
The likely road for second place: Japan, Brazil, United States.
I don’t see enough difference to make this game huge, especially because you’re playing so many games in a short period, some of them in intense heat. But we’ll see.

10) Refs need to show cards sometimes

Cha Sung Mi, the South Korean referee of the second game today, never really had control of the game, and – despite the fact that people decry them as not having control (irony) – probably needed to show some cards early in the match.
When you do that, the Nigerians have to think twice about hacking people because they may get sent off.

Bonus:

French women better than men

The last time the French men won a World Cup game by three goals or more? July 12, 1998. Of course, that happened to be in a World Cup final and over Brazil, too, but hey, one step at a time.