Tag Archives: hope powell

Olympics – What We Learned: Quarterfinals – Great Britain 0:2 Canada

“We didn’t accomplish what we set out to,’’ observed Kelly Smith. “We’ve broken these records, inspired a lot of people but we didn’t get a medal. We fell short and all the players are hurting.”

In the ultimate reality show that is sport, the ending is not always assured. In fact, it’s very rarely assured. And until they start the Robotic Olympics (I expect about 2048 or so), the games are going to be played by humans, who have bodies that tend to break down. Kelly Smith’s body has been telling her for a while that the end of her playing career is near. She was able to get through three group stage games, leading Great Britain to an undefeated record, but just couldn’t go today, and the team wilted without her (and a lot of help from a resurgent Canada).

What was supposed to happen is that the country was supposed to continue to rally around Great Britain into the semifinals with the heavily favored United States. There was to be record crowds, record television audiences, and a chance to grow the women’s game in a place where it seemed to have a great place to do so. Instead, in front of a non-sell out in Coventry (although it was close), everything came to a screeching half.

Someone tell the writers of this show they’re terrible.

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Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – Great Britain 3:0 Cameroon

One of the toughest things when trying to project what’s going to happen in a tournament as it progresses is how much a single performance matters in the context of the entirety of it. Great Britain was awesome against Cameroon, arguably the best game I’ve seen anyone play at the Olympics to date. But was it because Britain was that good or was Cameroon – even though they seemed to be playing hard – that poor? And even if it was Britain, can they replicate it in the next few outings? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I was encouraged.

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Women’s World Cup – Day 14: What We Learned

Everyone, including me, will spend the rest of time (and perhaps longer in Germany) trying to figure out how the Germans – such heavy favorites going into the 2011 World Cup – fell to Japan today.

Certainly, Germany didn’t play their best, and there will be plenty of questions surrounding Silvia Neid and some of the players on her team.

But this day belongs to Japan, folks.

It was March 11 when the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan. The Japanese are a proud people, and likely some of the last on the planet to ask for help, or to bring attention to their problems, but with somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 dead and any damage estimates would just be a wild guess.

It’s also true that nothing the Japanese women can do at the World Cup can bring back any of the people that died or help rebuild their country.

But, even beyond that, the class that the Japanese women have showed has been astounding. Most of the reports out of the two friendlies Japan played against the U.S. mentioned something about the fantastic attitude and thankfulness the Japanese team had, even when they lost both games.

What’s more, the technical ability they brought to the World Cup was refreshing, not using the lack of height on their roster as an excuse.

They didn’t get a yellow card in the group stages, and here’s what impressed me most of all.

Trying to hang on for dear life against a heavy favorite on the road, not one Japanese player went down “injured” or really stalled for time at all in the 22 minutes after they scored their goal. And they won anyway.

With all the crap we see in soccer (and sports in general, let’s face it), it’s nice to see the good guys win every once in a while. And do it the right way.

Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 14 of Germany 2011.

1) Japan was simply technically better

Early in the second half, Ian Darke sounded amazed when he was told the possession was 57 percent in favor of Japan. Um, not really. Did we so easily forget how easily Japan dismanted Mexico? I know, it was Mexico, but still. It’s not like Germany looked like they could string a million passes together in their group stage games. Japan was under some pressure, but they were rarely forced to chase the ball.

2) In fact, the best two technical teams in the tournament are on to the semifinals

I’m as stunned as you, but it’s a good day for women’s soccer, even if Germany and England – two countries that might have needed a boost to their women’s domestic leagues (but in all honesty, who doesn’t?) – bowed out. Finally, the Evan Pelleruds of the world can see teams that can keep the ball and win doing it. A France-Japan final, while probably a ratings disaster, would be a brilliant advertisement for the women’s game.

3) Saki Kumagai was my Woman of the Match

I almost didn’t recognize her without her unique headgear on, but she headed away at least a couple of balls in the first half that Ayumi Kaihori (who seemed to get stronger at the game wore on) looked unsure on. Inka Grings was very quiet, and every time Germany looked ready to do something, it seemed that Kumagai was there.

4) Germany got very, very tight as the game wore on

The longer the game went on, the more desperate Germany looked. We’ll never know what would have happened if Kim Kulig didn’t get hurt, but other than Celia Okoyino de Mbabi, it’s hard to pick another German player that stood out. It wasn’t Simone Laudehr’s best game, Inka Grings and Melanie Behringer both looked a step (or two) slow, and Kerstin Garefrekes appeared as if the occasion might have gotten to her. Such is how upsets happen, and it did today.

5) Silvia Neid should take some blame, but not all of it

I actually didn’t mind the starting lineup that much, and although it was a slight surprise to see Lena Goessling come on in the 65th minute, I thought she was one of their best players (probably second to da Mbabi in her time on the field). That left Neid with only one sub left, meaning Lira Baramaj or Alexandra Popp was not making it on the field (I don’t think Birgit Prinz ever stood a chance). She went with Popp, which I can understand, but the change should have been made earlier. Way earlier.
You can knock her for not starting Baramaj if you want, though.

6) It would have been a real shame if France had lost

For once, the right team won on penalties, and again, I’m as shocked as you. I say “right” team because – let’s be honest – France prettty much dominated proceedings from start to finish. England really had three good chances. One fell to Kelly Smith in the first minute, Jill Scott scored with the second, and Ellen White had the third in the 103rd minute. The first two you can really put down to goalkeeping errors.

7) Although England didn’t deserve to win, it was sad to see Kelly Smith possibly go out that way

It makes sense for Smith to retire after next year’s Olympics in London, so this may be it for the World Cup, and even on one leg for a lot of the match, she did her best and was one of the top players on the field, dutifully burying her penalty when it came to it, too. Just didn’t have enough help on the day, however.

8) It may be the end of Hope Powell with England as well

It wasn’t a good tournament for Powell, her substitutions again today left much to be desired, taking both veteran outside backs out with a 1-0 lead in the 81st minute (Alex Scott looked as baffled as I did). While penalties are a crapshoot, sending Claire Rafferty and an injured Faye White as your last two kickers obviously didn’t work out. Powell hinted after the game that this might be it for her.
It’s a shame because Powell has done probably more than anyone besides Kelly Smith for women’s soccer in England over the past 20 years, and to go out like that isn’t quite fair, either.

9) France is the favorite to win this thing right now

Will they win in the end? As we saw today, who knows? Anything can happen, but France has played the best soccer in the World Cup. Their biggest liability today was third-string goalkeeper Celine Deville (who tried her best, you could tell she was just a bit overmatched), but Berange Sapowicz returns for the semifinal, and if the winner of the U.S.-Brazil clash thinks they’ll have an easy semifinal, they’ll be in for a rude awakening.

10) Kudos to the referees

We’ve had a couple of poorly officiated games, but not many. Today, Jenny Palmqvist (Sweden) and Quetzalli Alvarado (Mexico) were outstanding, particularly Palmqvist, who did not have the easiest game to ref, but was calm, composed, and had just the right demeanor to make the game go smoothly. She had a couple of chances to give a second yellow card to Kelly Smith, but instead talked to her. One of these two will likely be on the final and it will be well deserved.

Bonus:

I feel for England because I hate penalty kicks

As a Chelsea fan, I’m sure you can understand why. But my high school team was also eliminated in penalties last fall, as was a U-11 team I coached. The poor girl who had the last one saved looked a lot like Claire Rafferty walking up to the spot, quite scared. But if they kept playing, England may not have had any players left at the end.

Double bonus:

Was Hope Powell really asking people to take penalty kicks in the England huddle?

Haven’t seen a follow-up on that, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but you hope they at least practiced penalty kicks. Rafferty had her hand up like she was volunteering.

If The Women’s Game Is To Truly Grow, Players Like Eni Aluko Have To Take The Heat

And now, as the late, great Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story.

I really don’t have anything against Eni Aluko, she is an intelligent young woman (she’s on her way to being a lawyer), and obviously has enough soccer talent to be starting for England in the World Cup, which means she could literally do circles around me if we ever met on the field.

However, my job here is to analyze what happens in these Women’s World Cup matches, and in England’s opener against Mexico, Aluko had a poor match, she missed a few chances, and seemed to fade away as she (and her team) tired.

The previous paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with Aluko as a person, and it’s a difference that some of us can’t really wrap our arms around sometimes, but it’s an extremely significant one for those of us that like to watch the best of the best in athletics.

After the game, Aluko was understandably upset, but not so understandably sent this Tweet out:

EniAlu “Kate Markgraf’s commentary is probably going to be the most shocking thing about this WWC.Just sayin.Thank you.Good night. Onto the next one”

Ten years ago, even five years ago, Aluko wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do such a thing, and she quickly realized the error of her ways and deleted the Tweet (a couple of hours after sending it).

But not before a few people took her to task for criticizing Markgraf on Twitter. That probably should be the end of the story, Aluko learned her Twitter lesson, and we move on.

Instead, the story was spun into poor Aluko being the victim, first by ESPN (which is somewhat ironic, because it was Markgraf – as a conduit of ESPN – that Aluko seemed to be most upset with in the first place), then by the Guardian, of all people, both of whom seemed to ignore the fact that the brunt of the Twitter criticism didn’t seem to come until after the Tweet about Markgraf (in fact, it wasn’t mentioned at all in either story).

Aluko called her Twitter messages “intrusive and poisonous”, and went on to say, “I’m a very passionate person and if you’re going to write negativity about me I’m going to say something back.”

Again, no one deserves to be abused and Twitter (like the Internet, in general) allows people to “hide behind a keyboard”, as Aluko says.

But part of being a professional athlete is taking criticism and responsibility for what you say as well. Two weeks ago, Charlie Davies – who began the season as the feel-good story of MLS after returning from a near-fatal car accident – drew the ire of MLS fans when his dive gave DC United a late penalty kick and a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake.

Davies (who was fined $1,000 for “bringing the game into disrepute”) is very active on Twitter, and first took to defending himself from comments which were much, much worse than Aluko received earlier this week. A few days after the incident, he Tweeted “Just had a drive of 250 yards!!! I’m felling it now hahaha”.

Person after person, of course, turned the word drive into dive, and it was a new round of abuse for Davies.

But this time, Davies (probably getting some good advice from somewhere) stayed silent – at least as far as Twitter was concerned. He came back, scored in his next start and never mentioned it again. While I’m sure the controversy will never completely be gone as far as opposing fans and idiots who are just out to get a rise out of people are concerned, it has mostly quieted down and Davies has gone back to his business.

Markgraf, to her credit, took the high road as well, saying on Twitter before commenting on the England-New Zealand match Friday: “Social media makes it possible 2 contact athletes. Want them perform better?don’t @ them twitter msg. they know! no 1 goes out 2 do poorly.”

Adrian Healey brought up the Twitter “controversy” a couple of times, and Markgraf – very professionally – stayed quiet.

Aluko got the start and actually had a much better time of it before getting substituted at halftime for Karen Carney as England came from behind to likely book a place in the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win.

So, the bottom line here is twofold. In my coaching (and teaching), I always stress the difference between controllables and uncontrollables. Eni Aluko – as with anyone – can’t control what people say about her. It’s part of the job of an elite  athlete where thousands of people watch the games and care about the results.

As I’ve said before, personal abuse – threatening, racial comments, talking about family members, etc. – has no place in any sport and should not be tolerated.

But if you can’t take criticism of your play on the field at this level, you’re probably in the wrong place. And when you make the first rude comment about someone else, then expect us to feel sympathy for you, there’s no way I’m going to feel sorry for you.

Sorry, Eni, it’s nothing personal.

Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Day 2

The “group of life” took center stage today, but anyone who thought Japan was a little bit of a soft No. 4 in the world may think differently after they handled New Zealand much easier than the final 2-1 tally would indicate.

Meanwhile, England looked like they were well on their way to doing the same until a 40-yard dancing missile out of nowhere from Mexico’s Monica Ocampo shook them so much they never really recovered. You’d still consider them favorites to go through, but finishing second in Group B will likely get you a date with Germany in the quarterfinals, and then likely get you on the next plane home.

So what happened? I’ll try to tell you in the 10 things we learned in Day 2 of Germany 2011.

1) The weather (and fitness) will be a factor for some

New Zealand had a pretty good gameplan to pressure Japan into mistakes and try to take advantage of their lack of size at the other end. Through most of the first half, despite conceding, it worked pretty well, they went into halftime 1-1.
But on a very warm day, New Zealand just couldn’t keep it up. Betsy Hassett and Katie Hoyle slowed down significantly in the center of midfield, players started cramping up, pressure was non-existent, and tackles were lazy, including the one Rebecca Smith put on Mana Iwabuchi, which eventually led to the winning goal. New Zealand never did get a shot on goal in the second half, and obviously never threatened.
You could argue the same for England, they seemed to run out of gas in the final 30 minutes, not as creative, not as fluid, and it nearly allowed the Mexicans to steal the game. Add the fact that teams will be playing a lot of games in a short period of time, too.

2) You can add Mana Iwabuchi to the list of youngsters to keep an eye on

Some of it is what you just read in No. 1, New Zealand was very tired in the second half, but if Japan was gaining momentum already, Iwabuchi put them over the edge, running at the Kiwis at will. She came on relatively early for Shinobi Ohno (55th minute), so you wonder if Norio Sasaki thinks about starting her, but probably not for now.

3) You can talk about a lot of things, but sometimes quality just shines through

Yes, it came from a New Zealand giveaway, but if you get a chance, look at the pass from Ohno that set up the first Japanese goal in the 6th minute. Ridiculous. And it wasn’t an easy finish for Yuki Nagasato, either. Brilliant goal, men, women, or martian. And Aya Miyama’s winning free kick goal was also pure class. Class that New Zealand just doesn’t have, unfortunately.

4) It’s going to be tough to outprepare Japan

Did you notice that Japan seemed to be putting all of their corner kicks toward the same long spot, even though they had a significant height disadvantage? It wasn’t an accident, New Zealand had obviously been scouted zonal marking and left the spot 12 yards high on the far side open. Japan hit that spot, put it back into the mixer and nearly got a couple of goals.
To a lesser extent, Japan also tried to take advantage of New Zealand “squeezing” them to one side of the field, preventing them from switching, but they couldn’t exploit it too often (they did once when Mizuho Sakaguchi should have scored in the 18th minute, but hit the post).

5) Japan may struggle with Mexico, too, though

New Zealand’s goal came because Japan was caught pretty high up the field and right back Yukari Kinga couldn’t get anywhere near Amber Hearn, while goalkeeper Ayuma Kihari was a little lost, resulting in a pretty easy finish. Mexico won’t have the height, but they will have the counterattacking ability to possibly take advantage, although they probably won’t wilt like England, either. OK, maybe they won’t struggle.

6) Speaking of goalkeepers, Mexico’s Cici Santiago was the best of the four today

She really doesn’t look all that intimidating, but she makes the saves she’s supposed to make, and doesn’t do anything stupid. There’s something to be said for simplicity. She didn’t get scored on from 40 yards out like her counterpart Karen Bardsley, for sure.

7) Hope Powell’s substitution pattern left plenty to be desired

How Eni Aluko goes 90 minutes in that game is beyond me. First, she was struggling phyiscally from about the 60 minute-mark onward, and I thought she might come off with an injury. Second, she was ineffective, missing a couple of chances and giving the ball away on a few other occasions after a decent start.
Add to that the weather, and the fact that Powell didn’t use her second sub until the 83rd minute and never did use her third with her team in dire need of energy from somewhere. Surely, there was someone on that bench who could have done something. Ellen White had an impact in her 18 minutes of work, but probably should have been called on earlier.

8) The women’s game is officiated a little differently

In the 57th minute, Jill Scott was cleaned out with a late, studs pretty far up challenge by Mexico’s Stephany Mayor. The referee (Silvia Reyes of Peru) never did give a card to Mayor, and Kate Markgraf thought it was a “fair challenge”. If that were MLS, people would be screaming for a suspension.

9) Mexico’s Leonardo Cuellar doesn’t share the “defending through attacking” philosophy of CONCACAF rival Carolina Morace, but it worked nonetheless

The 4-1-4-1 Mexico put out today started out by giving England a ton of space, but Maribel Dominguez ran until she couldn’t run anymore, Mexico had enough players behind the ball, and was able to steal a goal at just the right time, because if they had to come out and play down 1-0, they might have been picked apart.
In the second half, Cuellar and Mexico took advantage of a tiring England and pushed higher up the field, which is why they not only had more of the game, but prevented England from coming at them in waves as well. Good tactical game from Cuellar, he certainly won that battle.

10) The United States has to feel a little better about themselves

Well, except for the England part, I guess. But they did handle Japan pretty well in friendlies and despite a 1-0 scoreline, completely played Mexico off the field. Japan was very good today and Mexico was obviously no slouch, either, meaning the U.S. should be pretty confident heading into a game against North Korea, although I don’t know how confident you can ever be about playing North Korea.

BONUS:

I wish Alina Garciamendez was American

Wait, she is? Someone alert US Soccer, quick.