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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.

CONCACAF WWCQ Final: Canada vs. Mexico

Some unforeseen circumstances this past weekend have held me up, but here, I send my belated congratulations to Canada and Mexico for earning automatic berths to next year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany. The two nations will face off at tonight’s CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying finals at 9pm ET for bragging rights as the confederation champions.

Of all the CONCACAF WWCQ tournaments that the US has participated in, this will mark the first time that a country other than the US will take home the trophy. Up until now, the only other nation to win the title was Canada in 1998 by defeating Mexico 1-0. The US didn’t participate that year since they automatically qualified for the WWC as hosts.

Recalling the path to the finals, last week’s semi-final showdowns began with game #1. Early on in the match, Canada had a difficult time finding the back of the net against Costa Rica despite a number of opportunities in the box. Diana Matheson, Josée Bélanger, Kaylyn Kyle and Christine Sinclair all sent their shots sailing over the crossbar. Costa Rica maintained possession quite well during the first half, but were unable to translate that into goals. The Canadians got a bit of a scare in the 19′ when a Costa Rican corner kick flashed across the face of goal. Kyle closely marked Costa Rica’s #9, successfully impeding her run to the far post for a tap in. Nearing the end of the first half, Costa Rica’s strike from 30 yards out went just wide of the net, but would have beaten LeBlanc had it been on frame.

Canadian nerves were finally settled in the 62′ when Sinclair ran to the end line and cut the ball back to an open player. Jonelle Filigno’s initial shot was saved but Bélanger was there to burry the rebound. 10 minutes later, a foul on Scott led to a free kick that fell to Filigno to slot into the net. A corner kick in the 72′ allowed Sinclair to score for a 3-0 lead and the win was capped off by a Costa Rican own-goal during the dying minutes of the game off a cross by Rhian Wilkinson.

Many fans tuned into semi-final #2 expecting to see Mexico take the long road to the WWC. Instead, they pulled off what ESPN and other news sources have been calling, “one of the biggest upsets in the history of women’s soccer.” See Jenna’s posts for insightful coverage of the match.

Maribel Dominguez snuck in behind the American backline to toe poke in the opening goal just 3′ into the game. The US eventually levelled the score in the 25′ when a poor punch by the Mexican ‘keeper, Erika Vanegas, fell to the feet of Carli Lloyd. But less than a minute later, the Mexicans notched the game winning goal when a cross from the right side was headed home by Veronica Perez.

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