Again, New Zealand huffed and puffed, but again they couldn’t knock the door down to get a result against a world power at a major competition. It was pretty cruel on poor New Zealand, too, who marginalized Marta and frustrated Brazil, only to give up a goal five minutes from the end that was really unlucky and unnecessary from a New Zealand perspective. On the plus side, a win – particularly a lopsided one – over Cameroon should still see them get through to the quarterfinals, and at that point, who knows?
In its first match at a major competition, and one of their first outside of Africa, Cameroon gave up two goals on set pieces in the first 10 minutes against Brazil, and appeared to be ready to be on the end of a hiding. But the Indomitable Lionesses (have to use that as much as possible in the next couple of weeks) settled down and held Brazil at bay for the next 65 minutes. And then gave up three more in the last 15. But they can keep their heads up, and with a break or two, might give Great Britain or New Zealand some trouble. As for Brazil? We’re still guessing.
I spent most of the Brazil-Norway match trying to figure out what formation Brazil was playing, what their movement was. For the most part, I was baffled.
Were there three true forwards? Was it a diamond formation in the midfield? Were they using a true sweeper, or did Daiane come up sometimes and just look like a sweeper when the other team had the ball?
I forgot, though, what a legendary high school basketball coach used to tell me after his team won (he’s actually better than he gives himself credit for, but the point is still valid).
“Talent is the divider. You can’t win without talent.”
And, in the end, as frustrating as it for analysts and armchair coaches like me, Brazil may win the World Cup because they have the best players. Occam’s Razor lives again.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two (or 10), and here are the 10 things we learned in Day 8 of Germany 2011.
1) There are some things that defy explanation
Gyoengyi Gaal is one of the top referees in the world. She is the first female ref to officiate men’s professional games in her home country of Hungary, she did a quarterfinal (and third place involving the U.S.) match in the 2007 World Cup and semifinal in Euro 2009. It stands to reason that she would be picked for a semifinal in this tournament, or even (gulp) the final.
Which makes the incident today in the Australia-Equatorial Guinea match even more bizarre. I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, and my immediate thoughts were trying to figure out what happened. But after a few seconds, it hits you, “What the heck was that?”
I’m not sure what Gaal was thinking. I’m not sure she knows what she was thinking. It was just one of those brainfreezes that everyone gets every once in a while. Unfortunately, it happened in front of the whole world.
At least in this U-20 game at last year’s World Cup, the ref had an inkling that the ball might be out of bounds.
2) Unfortunately for Gaal, it was a poorly officiated game, even taking out the handball
Again, this is not a personal attack against Gaal, and it should be pointed out that officials are graded all the way up, so she must be a very good referee to get as far as she did, but it wasn’t her day.
People complain that referees that hand out too many cards have lost control of the match, but sometimes – as it was today – that’s precisely what the game needs. Equatorial Guinea should have been a shown a couple of cards early, and then if they continue to foul repeatedly, you have to send people off. Otherwise, you get what you had today, a chippy hackfest which is ugly to watch. And this was ugly.
3) Genoveva Anonma wasn’t nearly as likable today
Which is kind of sad, because she did score twice and almost singlehandedly keep her team in the game. But she also was petulant with the opponents, the officials, and – on a couple of occasions, it appeared – her own teammates, as she didn’t think about passing too much.
Part of the frustration for Equatorial Guinea seemed like the formation. Marcello Frigerio changed to a 3-6-1, and it didn’t seem like his team got it.
4) Australia is dangerous, but very young
I found this interview with Leena Khamis, who was probably Women of the Match today, interesting. It’s not like the men’s game, where most of the stars will make plenty of money to retire on in the game.
You saw the best and the worst of Australia today, young players like Samantha Kerr and Emily van Egmond (whose finish n the winning goal was underrated), but you saw young Servet Uzunlar make two giant mistakes in the back, too.
If I’m the U.S., I’d probably want to play Australia rather than Norway because of that, but in the quarterfinals, I guess you take whatever comes your way.
5) Australia with Kate Gill might be a threat to go a long way
It’s easy to forget that Australia is without Kate Gill, the 2010 Asian Player of the Year. Gill, at 26, would figure to be in her prime for this tournament, too, but went down with a knee injury in the spring. We shall see, but that might be the difference for Australia against Norway on Wednesday.
6) Brazil has Marta and no one else does
As I said in the open, we can talk about tactics until we’re blue in the face, but Marta can do so much just by being Marta. You can make a pretty strong argument that there was a foul on the first goal, but she basically created two goals by herself, and that’s the difference in any match, in any round.
Marta is now tied with Michelle Akers for most goals ever (12) at the World Cup, and if she doesn’t break it against Equatorial Guinea, it’s likely because she was rested.
The great thing about soccer is that you can scheme all you want to stop her – and people will the rest of the tournament – but it probably won’t work.
7) Kleiton Lima may be a tactical genius, but probably not
His deep sweeper 3-4-3 looking formation has two wins and two clean sheets in the first two matches, and you can’t knock the numbers, but I’m concluding: a) he has some pretty darn good players to work with; and b) he just hasn’t faced an attack that will give him much trouble yet.
The thing that bothered me even more than the sweeper was the lack of pressure in the opponents’ half. Maybe Lima feels like his team isn’t in shape to chase, maybe he just wants to counter, but Cristiane pressured about three times, almost caused mistakes, and finally did on Brazil’s third goal. Maybe he wasn’t watching the rest of the tournament?
But he’s 2-0, and I’m not.
8 ) There were probably two fouls on the lead up to Marta’s first goal
I’d probably say Marta fouled Nora Holstad Berge, although I can see why it wasn’t given. The bigger issue for me was upfield, where Emilie Haavi just seemed to get dumped by Erika in the Brazil third, and Kari Seitz saw nothing wrong with it. Such is life.
9) Brazil is capable of levels that no other team can reach
That three minute span coming out of halftime that saw Brazil score twice? Ridiculous. If you get Marta clicking with Cristiane and Rosana, look out. Obviously, you don’t have to tell the United States that, they saw it in 2007.
10) Norway might have enough to give Australia problems
Athletically, you give Australia the advantage, but Norway did get some chances in the second half by getting the ball forward, and I already mentioned the youth in the Australian team, you wonder if they can hold it together against an onslaught of corner kicks and balls into the box. The first goal will be extremely important in that match.
Tom Sermanni = class act
How many coaches would have completely flipped out on the non-penalty kick call? But Sermanni didn’t, and his team – as is often the case – followed his demeanor, they stayed calm enough to get through it and eventually, they got their three points.