Jenna and the finest women’s soccer website on the planet has been nice enough to ask me to add my two cents (or $2) on the Women’s World Cup. I spend most of my time writing on MLS and the men’s game, but I am a big fan of the women’s game. In my coaching career, I’m primarily a girls coach these days, and it’s always nice for them to have someone to look up to. Sadly, some of the youngsters I coach were barely born in 1999, and obviously have no recollection of that wonderful summer.
However, they can look on their televisions (hopefully they will) and see sell-out crowds in Germany and a country head over heels for the women’s game.
Here’s how I described what I did last year for the men’s World Cup:
“I’m going to try every day of the World Cup for a little different kind of analysis, entitled What We Learned. We won’t go too deep into tactics, and it may not even be terribly cohesive, but they are things we learned during the day’s action, and maybe some things to think about going forward.”
The tactics were so interesting today that they do get a couple of mentions, but without further ado, 10 things we learned in Day 1 of Germany 2011.
1) Nigeria put together, by a pretty wide margin, the most organized effort of an African side in Women’s World Cup history
The Nigerian women have always been known to me as the “Last of the Mohicans” (a fine movie, by the way) because they were still playing a sweeper long after it was seemingly extinct at the world level (and some levels below).
As late as last November, on a grainy Zapruder-like film, it seemed as if Nigeria was playing a sweeper in a 8-0 thrashing (5-0 at half) at the hands of Germany.
But there was no sweeper today. They knew they had a speed advantage, closed down the middle of field, played an organized high line, and were somewhat unlucky to leave with nothing.
Kate Markgraf (who I thought did a good job, too) insinuated that it may not have been Ngozi Uche but her assistants who were the tactical people, but it was refreshing to see some organization out of an obviously talented side.
If Desire Oparanozie finishes a 25th-minute breakaway in which France keeper Berangere Sapowicz seemed to get her angles all wrong, who knows?
It is somewhat unfortunate that Nigeria is stuck in Group A, though.
2) France has skill, but do they have athleticism?
France was able to knock the ball around, but there were a few times where they just couldn’t keep up physically, and that could be scary for them going forward. Camile Abily, Elise Bussaglia, and Sandrine Soubeyrand (who was subbed off at halftime by Bruno Bini) in the midfield, especially, looked like they were completely frustrated by the buzzing Nigerians. Are the Nigerians athletic enough to give the Germans and Canadians the same problems, or is France just slow? I guess we’ll find out together. Elodie Thomis came off the bench to solve that problem in the 57th minute, and we’ll see if maybe Bini goes to her to start in the pivotal Canada match.
3) Louisa Necib taketh and Louisa Necib giveth away
Whenever you hear “the female Zidane”, obviously you get excited, and it didn’t take her long to show off her skill. But as the game progressed, like some of her teammates (see No. 2), she looked a little slow and made some poor decisions on the ball. That’s the difference between a good player and a great player, especially a midfielder, and she did make a great pass to send Marie-Laure Delie in late in the game. So, although I wasn’t overly impressed, it’s only the first game, I guess.
4) Marie-Laure Delie might be the real deal because….
By halftime, I was underwhelmed. But when her moment came in the 56th minute, she checked back, made a fine pass to start the movement, and then was at the right place at the right time to finish it seconds later. Getting 22 goals in 21 caps is no fluke.
5) Ian Holloway would be proud of Carolina Morace
Like Holloway at underdog Blackpool, Morace decided if she was going to go down today to heavily favored Germany, she was going to go down attacking, and we the viewing public thank her profusely. Morace had the “Santa Clara 4-3-3” that Jerry Smith made popular in the college ranks, but most teams today play with two holding midfielders (as Germany did). Morace started with Melissa Tancredi and Janelle Filigno not in a defending 4-5-1, but a straight attacking 4-3-3, Kaylyn Kyle as a box-to-box midfielder. Down two goals, Morace threw Kelly Parker in for Kyle to make it a more attacking formation. It put Sophie Schmidt (who I thought did her best) in a tough spot as the lone defensive midfielder, and it created some holes, but it was fun to watch, and Canada nearly pulled it off? Does Morace do it against France, or against Nigeria, who may use the lack of people back to counter them successfully?
6) Ah, those outside backs
Lots of youth coaches try to hide their weakest players at outside back, but as the U.S. men’s team learned Saturday night against Mexico, at high levels, you’d better have capable people in those spots. Unfortunately for Canada, Marie-Eve Nault had a disastrous first half. Thirty seconds before the first goal, she was beaten badly and Kerstin Garefrekes nearly scored. Then, fellow outside back Rhian Wilkinson switched off, Babett Peter was able to deliver a nice cross, and Garefrekes was able to outjump Nault for the first goal. On the second goal, Nault was woefully late coming forward, and then got subbed out at halftime, although her replacement – Robin Gayle – was caught stepping late just as Nault was in the 66th minute, only to have Garefrekes have one of the worst misses you’ll ever see. So some work for Canada to do there, but some of that is the attacking formation with no real midfielders to track back.
In the other game, by the way, Nigeria had a big injury in right back Faith Ikidi. Sub Josephine Chukwunonge didn’t look nearly as comfortable.
For France, right back seems an odd position for 6-foot-1 Wendie Renard, as – although obviously a target at the other end on set pieces – she looked vulnerable defending, eventually leaving with an injury in the 69th minute.
7) Goalkeeping will be an issue
One of the reasons I like Markgraf is because she is frank, she said that female goalkeeping is not as good as male goalkeeping, and the reason why Germany and the U.S. have to be favorites is because they have the best keepers.
For all of Hope Solo’s immaturity and questionable comments off the field, you don’t get much argument that she’s the best goalie in the world, and when you see keepers flap at crosses in the France-Nigeria game, I think it could be a deciding factor.
For Canada, Nault held Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi onside, but where was Erin McLeod? When she finally came into the picture, she was in her goal and had no shot at a save. If you’re going to play that high a line, your keeper has to play with you and hopefully cut off a ball like that.
8) These teams had a long time to work on set pieces
The coach in me was stopping the tape every set piece to write down some of the creativity these teams were using. You can tell they’ve been in camp for a while.
It started just two minutes in when when Necib hit an overlapping player. A few minutes later, Gaetane Thiney hit a post on a well-worked front-post corner, and Canada had all sorts of tricks up their sleeves.
Of course, as Julie Foudy correctly pointed out, what was the one that actually resulted in a goal? Christine Sinclair (who was fantastic and scary for Canada today) walked up the ball and pounding it home with a great, but fairly straightforward, free kick.
9) Germany has an embarrassment of riches
Silvia Neid’s three subs were Alexandra Popp, Inka Grings, and Fatmine Bajramaj in that order, three players that would likely be starting for any other team in the tournament, and that includes the U.S. We’ll have to see how Neid handles Popp, she doesn’t want to overwhelm Popp, but she’s too good to be on the bench.
10) Thankfully less riff-raff then in the men’s game
After watching a month of the Gold Cup with players rolling around on the ground to embellish, getting in the officials’ faces over and over, and all kinds of gamesmanship, there was none of that today. In fact, we almost escaped the entire day – with all four teams playing aggressive, but clean soccer. In fact, we almost escaped the day without a single card (there were none in the France-Nigeria match), but Germany got two in the final 10 minutes of the second match (Simone Laudehr and Annike Krahn). Hopefully, it continues.