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.
Probably not too surprisingly under a British coach and with a young, athletic team that might not quite add up talent-wise with some of the best in the world, New Zealand under Tony Readings came out with a high-pressing, direct style that gave hosts Great Britain a lot of trouble at times in the Olympic opener. But as it was at the World Cup last year, the Ferns came up a little bit short, thanks to Stephanie Houghton’s free kick in the 64th minute. With eight teams out of 12 instead of eight of 16, New Zealand still has a decent chance to advance. Here’s what we learned:
Well, I promised you people I’d have an All-Tournament team for the Women’s World Cup, and after a week of stalling (and working with the future soccer players of America in 100-degree heat), here you go.
But to do it the right way, I need to make an actual team. It’s easy (at least, easier) to give you a list of players, harder to pick the best at each position, and who I might want to use off the bench if I had to win a game (of course, I think I’ll do OK with this team no matter what 11 I choose).
Among the players that didn’t make the cut:
You may have noticed that I picked France to go to the finals of the World Cup. Based primarily on Lyon’s Champions League run and the camaraderie (and skill on the ball) they have, that one seems like a fantastic pick, and makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about.
Hopefully you didn’t notice that I picked Japan to bow out of the World Cup a the group stage, primarily due to a lack of finishing ability and a lack of size in a group that included a couple of physical teams in New Zealand and England. That pick? Well, most certainly I look like an idiot and makes me feel like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle.
And so we trudge on, here are the 10 things we learned in Day 6 of Germany 2011:
1) Don’t foul Japan anywhere near your final third
On the surface, Japan – and their lack of height – would not be a dangerous team on set pieces. But Aya Miyama’s service has been more than excellent, it’s been nearly perfect, resulting directly in three goals in Japan’s first two games.
Someone brought up the fact that the men’s team was also pretty good on set pieces, and – to me, at least – it’s just a matter of having a person who can serve the ball well, for the Japan men it was Keisuke Honda, who continues to star in the Russian League with CSKA Moscow.
2) The last day of group action may not be terribly exciting
It’s possible that Mexico could beat New Zealand, but to make up the goal differential deficit they currently face is asking a bit too much, methinks.
So, basically, we have four teams already in the quarterfinals: Germany, France, Japan, and England. If the United States beats Colombia as expected and Sweden can top North Korea, those two teams will have qualified as well, which leaves Group D where Norway and Australia don’t meet until the third game, which may give us the only drama, at least as who will qualify.
There is still seeding to worry about.
3) Japan’s fourth goal should be shown at clinics everywhere
It gets a little bit of an asterisk because Mexico was chasing the game and was pretty tired by the 80th minute, but a 14-pass sequence that was primarily one and two touch and covering almost the entire field, finished off by an overlapping right back (Yukari Kinga), a dummy front-post run (Yuki Nagasato), and cut back pass to Homare Sawa for the nice finish?
Brilliant. Sadly, I forgot and erased the game off my DVR as soon as the match ended. D’oh.
4) Hat tricks are actually very rare at the Women’s World Cup
Sawa’s hat trick was only the 14th in World Cup history, with Norway’s Ragnhild Gulbrandsen getting the last one in 2007 against Ghana (in a 7-2 win) in the group stage.
The only other three hat tricks in 2007 all happened in the same game, as Germany throttled Argentina 11-0 behind three goals each from Birgit Prinz, Renate Lingor, and Sandra Smisek.
Japan actually had a hat trick in 2003 as well, Mio Otani came off the bench to also exploit Argentina 6-0 (in a game Sawa also had two goals.)
Amazingly, to find the last United States hat trick (and the only two in U.S. history) you have to go back to the first World Cup in 1991, in the semfinals, Carin Jennings (now a fine coach at Navy) did the trick in a 5-2 semifinal win over Germany. In the quarterfinal, Michelle Akers (who had a nice piece in Sports Illustrated this week) had five goals in a 7-0 win over Chinese Taipei. That’s it, just two.
5) Alina Garciamendez had a tough time dealing with Japan’s movement
Ironically, you may be able to point to this as a development problem for U.S. soccer. Garciamendez came up through U.S. youth clubs and played very well against England, but the movement and ability off the ball of the Japanese had her completely baffled.
Sadly, you just don’t see that kind of stuff at the college level (and Garciamendez is among the best at one of the best in Stanford), and maybe you should. So far we’ve seen it from France and Japan, certainly.
6) Jill Scott put England on her back
New Zealand accounted for Kelly Smith fairly well, and no matter who Hope Powell was trying on the outside, England wasn’t able to break through. But Jill Scott, whose build would seem better suited to a center back, took over the game, even before she got the equalizing goal. She was winning everything in the midfield, and that started to put a tiring New Zealand squad under more and more pressure.
Alex Scott’s cross in the 63rd minute was perfect, as was Jill’s header, and 20 minutes later, when New Zealand going for a winner, Jill Scott had the stamina to get into the box, and the composure to lay the ball off to substitute Jess Clarke for the winner. Women of the Match, for my money, fairly easily.
7) New Zealand gave it all they had
It wasn’t for a lack of trying that New Zealand didn’t pull this game out (and you could probably say the same for their first match), but the Ferns just didn’t quite have the skill to keep up: a few too many bad first touches and giveaways that eventually got them tired by chasing again. To their credit, they went for the winner when the game was tied, but it eventually cost them in the end.
But you can’t knock the effort and the energy they they showed, which was refreshing.
8) The referees are still letting them play
Christina Pedersen (Norway) and Therese Neguel (Cameroon) didn’t hand out a single yellow card, and seemed to let things go a lot more than you’d see in the average men’s game. It didn’t have as much of an effect as it did yesterday with Nigeria, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Also, through 12 games, there has yet to be a penalty kick awarded. Take it for what it’s worth.
9) England still has some holes, but don’t count them out
It’s easy to look at their first two performances and think that England will never beat Germany (or France), but their history in Euro 2009 in Finland is interesting.
England lost to Italy in their opener, got down to goals to Russia (neither of whom is even in the World Cup) before coming back in that game, sqeaking into the knockout stages and going all the way to the final before getting shellacked by Germany, 6-2. To be fair, their opponents in the quarterfinals (Finland) and semis (Netherlands, who beat France in the quarters on penalties) aren’t in the World Cup, either, but you never know.
10) Colombia may be falling apart a little bit
Word out of the Colombia camp is that Yoreli Rincon might not even start on Saturday, which is slightly shocking, but looking at Colombia’s remarkable run to the U-20 semifinals last year in Germany, Rincon had only one goal from the run of play in the tournament (in the quarterfinals against Sweden).
But if Rincon is on the bench, who do they have to replace her? If the U.S. an get an early goal or two, they may be able to put up a fairly big number and assure their advancement.
I also just wanted an excuse to get this good article from the New York Times in.
If you look at the Colombia-Nigeria semifinal game at the U-20 World Cup last year, as many as six Colombians who started that match will start for Colombia tomorrow (one of them being Rincon). Nigeria has a similar number.
But if you look at the U.S. roster, not a single one even made the final senior World Cup roster this. The only one playing in the World Cup? Teresa Noyola, who appeared for Mexico today.