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The All-Curren Team: Picking The Best 18 From The World Cup

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:

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Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Day 10

The thing about a tournament in soccer (or in any sport for that matter) is that it really doesn’t matter how well or how poorly you played in your last game.

The goal is simple and clear: advance to the next round. There are no style points, and – unlike in a championship that is won over the long haul – dropped points are erased when you get to the next round.

And so those first two games where Germany struggled and France looked unbeatable, they have been quickly forgotten. While England at times had trouble getting out of their own way, and Japan was doing their best Barcelona impersonation, that has been pushed past the back burner all the way off the stage.

But it’s also a warning that things could flip the other way just as easily. I picked France to go the finals because I thought they could beat England, and maybe catch Brazil off guard. I still like those picks, despite what happened today.

I also picked Germany over the United States in the semifinals, and I’d like to say Germany just had a good day today, but I’m not so sure.

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

1) That was the Japan we thought we might see in the World Cup

My worst pick appears to be not having Japan go through, and the reasons were what you saw today. They were still able to move the ball, and had the territorial advantage, but there was no end product. There wasn’t really much that make you think there was going to be an end product.

2) Hello, Ellen White

You hear things like the women’s Wayne Rooney and one of the next big stars on the women’s scene, and you just didn’t see it in the first two games (of course, in the opening draw against Mexico, she didn’t even start, which looks a tad inexplicable now). But, even though the first goal had a hint of shoddy goalkeeping, Smith was dangerous and a complete handful for the Japanese defense for most of the match, one they didn’t have in their first two games. Karney Carney wasn’t too bad, either, including the assist on the second goal.

3) A little redemption for Karen Bardsley, too

Those of us that have watched WPS at least a little have seen that Bardsley has the ability (including physically, obviously) to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but the goal from distance against Mexico could not have helped her confidence. But she was tremendous today, possibly the best performance by a keeper at the World Cup.

4) It doesn’t mean much going forward, though

As I said in the opening, it is a great accomplishment to win the group, and I’m sure they’re happy to avoid Germany in the quarterfinals, but I think it’s still a toss-up at best in the England-France match (and that should be a good one). Obviously, just on today’s performances, maybe England was better, but as we’ve seen already, things change from game to game.

5) Mexico can leave with their heads held very high

It’s tough to get respect when you play in CONCACAF, and you’re not named the United States or Canada, but Mexico showed they were well deserving of their berth in this World Cup. They’ll be upset at giving up two goals in the closing minutes to New Zealand, but they may make things fairly difficult for the two big powers in the next few years, although they’ll likely have to do it without Maribel Dominguez, who has had a fine career. How they wish she was a decade younger.

6) Simone Laudehr might be the best player in the world not named Marta

She had probably been Germany’s best player in their first two matches, but she was on a different level today. She sets up as a holding midfielder, but when she can run box-to-box as she did a little in the first match, and did a lot of today, she just adds so much to the German attack. However ….

7) Laudehr (and a bunch of others) probably shouldn’t have been on the field today

I could be completely off here, but is there that much incentive to winning this group to play anyone with a yellow card? But both teams did.
Take it one step further, why would you play anyone you thought you were going to need in the quarterfinals? It’s tough to predict red cards, certainly, but now France has to face the quarterfinals without their starting goalkeeper (Berange Sapowicz).
(Was it a red card? It looked like there was a covering defender coming behind Sapowicz, and she might not have been the last man. Of course, there is no such things as “last man” in the FIFA Laws, it says “denying a goal scoring opportunity”, and I guess that was certainly a goal scoring opportunity just six yards from goal and the net virtually empty.)
I’ve talked about the tight schedule, and how many games these teams have had to play in a short period of time, but both these teams had most of their starters out on the field for 90 minutes today.
Obviously, the France attack is completely different with Marie-Laure Delie on the field, but would a full week’s rest have set her up for a big quarterfinal against England? Some players were rested, so why not rest everyone you can?

8 ) It might be a sad ending to the World Cup career of Birgit Prinz

I made a slight mistake in how I worded saying that Marta had caught Michelle Akers with 12 World Cup goals. Obviously, Prinz is still the overall leader with 14.
But that may be it. After today’s game, you can’t see Prinz starting the quarterfinal. And if they win that, she probably won’t start the rest of the way (and if they lose, they’re out and done). The only way you can see her getting back on the field is if Germany trails and needs a goal in the late stages of a match. It might not happen.

9) Nigeria deserves some credit for this World Cup, too

Off the field controversy notwithstanding (and maybe the second half against Germany), Nigeria was organized, and really not that far off against the toughest group the World Cup had to offer, a long way from where they were four years ago, and even longer from a decade ago when African teams simply couldn’t compete.
Their win today was no fluke, they were the better team against Canada, and Rita Chekwulu would make my Best XI from this World Cup. She was outstanding in her holding midfield role, and the biggest reason why they only conceded twice in the tournament.
If they can keep their act together, they might be the first African team to get out of the group stages in four years. Canada hopes it isn’t against them.

10) It was a sad ending for Christine Sinclair and Canada, but…

Today’s game reminded me a lot of the United States’ final game against Iran in the 1998 Men’s World Cup. The U.S. was out, they had little motivation, and would just outplayed by a hungrier Iran side. Obviously, there will be some fingers pointed at Carolina Morace.
Fittingly, Nigeria’s winner came right after a power outage delayed action in the match for 11 minutes, as if anything else could go wrong at this World Cup. We can only hope Sinclair can be in decent form when Canada hosts this tournament in four years. That U.S. team that was embarrassed in 1998 came back to have their best ever World Cup performance four years later, reaching the quarterfinals, and they weren’t even at home.

Bonus:

Zonal marking is stupid

I don’t always agree with the commentators on ESPN, but I think they’re right here. I don’t get it, I really don’t.

Double bonus:

Belief is the best of things

This is not commentary, but the summer soccer camp circuit started this week. A little 8-year old girl was sporting the old gold U.S. women’s jersey, and I asked her if she knew why there were two stars on the back collar.
She didn’t know, but her 10-year old sister butted into the conversation:
“That’s how many World Cups the United States has won. But they’ll have one more in a couple of weeks.”
Hopefully, the team has the same level of confidence.

Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Day 5

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.

Bonus:

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.