It was the best of the women’s game, but it was also the worst of the women’s game Thursday at the Women’s World Cup.
We saw France pick what appeared to be a more athletic Canada side apart with better ball control, more precise passing, looking like the “Barcelona of the women’s game” (although, as a few people have pointed out, just because a team can string four passes together doesn’t mean they should be compared to Barcelona), in an absolute rout.
Then we saw Nigeria, with a great deal of success, try to bully their way to a result against heavily favored Germany, in a match that will be remembered more for the number of injuries and fouls (and a little bit of curious officiating) than for the actual play on the field.
But you have to take the good with the bad when you cover a tournament, and I’ll try to make sense of the Thursday proceedings here.
And so, without further ado, here are the 10 things we learned in Day 5 of Germany 2011.
1) France’s win could reverberate further than just today
We’ve heard rumblings that the game is gettign more technical, that the days of just physically beating an opponent into submission (see: Norway in the 90s) were dead. I’ve read from Anson Dorrance and Even Pellerud on how the women’s game may never really evolve that way, and that athleticism will always win out (Dorrance has changed his tune slightly, Pellerud – who admittedly has had great success – really hasn’t).
For the first 15 minutes, Canada was buzzing, but once France settled down, they did circles around the Canadians, they were better passers, better dribblers, just played the game better, and there was little Canada could do to stop it.
Can France go all the way this way? Possibly, but…
2) Maybe the physicality thing is not quite dead yet
I’m torn with Nigeria’s performance against Germany. Part of me wants to congratulate their organization, and the fact that they’ve come a long way since an 8-0 drubbing in a friendly just six months ago. They battled, clawed, and made things difficult for Germany at every turn.
However, saying it was an ugly match would be generous. It set a Women’s World Cup record for fouls, saw more bodies on the ground than in the previous nine games combined seemingly, and saw very few movements that resembled anything beautiful like France was putting together.
The age old question, of course, is what are the Nigerians to do? Take a beating and smile? They did what they thought was best to try to win the game. It’s up to Germany (and the officials) to break them down. And today they couldn’t.
3) Scorelines don’t necessarily dictate how one-sided a game was
No one is debating that Canada deserved to get a result or anything, but if Canada could have stuck one in (and they were physically dominating the French in the first 15 minutes), who knows? Diana Matheson had a great chance in the 15th minute, it went begging, France was on the board 10 minutes later, and they never looked back from there. But if that first one goes in.
4) Ironically, France’s first goal came off a strong tackle
Canadian holding midfielder Sophie Schmidt was off to a good start in the match, took a touch in the 24th minute and thought she had time to clear. But her counterpart Elise Bussaglia came in with a hard (and clean) tackle, played a quick 1-2 with Louisa Necib, and Gaetane Thiney was at the far post to put France in front, and – as I stated before – it was all France after that.
Even Thiney’s second goal could be attributed to pressure. This time Emily Zurrer thought she had more time, Marie-Laure Delie got in the way of the clearance, and Thiney’s blast from outside the box was perfect. But it doesn’t happen without the pressure.
5) France looked much more comfortable with a formation tweak
Bruno Bini was in a little bit of a bind, as he pulled captain Sandrine Soubeyrand at halftime of the opener against Nigeria in his 4-5-1 to get more on the attack, moving Elise Bussaglia – whom he started wide – into that role.
Many thought he would make that switch permanent against Canada, but he wanted his veteran captain on the field, so he went to a 4-2-3-1 with Bussaglia and Soubeyrand holding. It allowed Louisa Necib to play in front of them and have more of the ball, and it worked very well after the first few minutes.
Whether France will have that same kind of success against Germany, or in the knockout stages, remains to be seen.
6) It was a sad end for Christine Sinclair and Canada
Under Pellerud eight years ago, Canada actually had the lead in the semifinals against Sweden before two late goals killed their dream. But the goal scorer in that game typifies Canada, Kara Lang was 16 when she scored. Eight years later, Lang is retired due to persistent knee injuries. Christine Latham, who also had some big goals in that tournament having just turned 22, but isn’t around anymore, either. Brittany Timko and Diana Matheson, both teenage starters during that World Cup, never developed into stars.
Which leaves Christine Sinclair, who should be around at 32 when Canada hosts the World Cup in 2015, but the current crop doesn’t look as promising as 2003.
But four years is a long time, Canada did win the Gold Cup in the winter, and Jonelle Filigno (20) looks like a potential star, so we’ll see.
7) You can bash Nigeria, but Germany wasn’t good today, either
The ball just moved too slow, and you wonder how much offense Silvia Neid is going to be able to generate with Kim Kulig and Simone Laudehr both as holding midfielers (although, as she did on the goal, Laudehr did get forward a bit today). Birgit Prinz was not a happy camper, and Neid has to make a tough decision and soon, to cut her loose (sit her) and go with Alexandra Popp, or stick with her. A very, very tough one indeed.
8) I’m not sure what we wanted Nigeria to do
Ngozi Uche (and her German staff) know if they come out and play a wide open game, they may get run over. So they turn to the style which they played today. It was borderline hideous and fairly gruesome to watch. But it gave them the best chance to win, didn’t it? That is the object, no?
Holding midfielder Rita Chekwelu has had two very good games and it’s a shame to see her wrapped up with the rest. But, unless someone changes the rules, that’s the way it’s going to go, we saw plenty of it at the Men’s World Cup last summer as well.
9) It may not be worth it to win Group A
It may be slightly embarrassing for the Germans not to win their group when they’re hosting the World Cup, but I take a long look at sitting some people and getting them a rest if I’m Neid and Bini in the last group match.
The likely road to the Cup for the winners of Group A: England, United States, Brazil.
The likely road for second place: Japan, Brazil, United States.
I don’t see enough difference to make this game huge, especially because you’re playing so many games in a short period, some of them in intense heat. But we’ll see.
10) Refs need to show cards sometimes
Cha Sung Mi, the South Korean referee of the second game today, never really had control of the game, and – despite the fact that people decry them as not having control (irony) – probably needed to show some cards early in the match.
When you do that, the Nigerians have to think twice about hacking people because they may get sent off.
French women better than men
The last time the French men won a World Cup game by three goals or more? July 12, 1998. Of course, that happened to be in a World Cup final and over Brazil, too, but hey, one step at a time.