With their 1-0 victory over Nigeria yesterday, USA takes first place in the Women’s World Cup Group of Death and now looks forward to a matchup with Colombia on Monday. Should USA win that game, a quarterfinal berth opposite either Cameroon or China awaits. This is as easy a road through the knockout stages that the team could have wished for, but nothing should be taken for granted. Meanwhile, the rest of the bracket is set as well after a wild final day of the tournament’s group stage. Let’s get to the questions:
I’m not like Nigeria’s coach. I want a scouting report. What’s Colombia like?
The best player on Las Cafeteras and maybe the best goalkeeper in the whole tournament so far has been Sandra Sepulveda, but there’s a problem. You see, she picked up her second yellow card of the tourney in the game against England, which means that she’ll be suspended against USA. Colombia’s best chance to beat us was probably their keeper playing out of her mind. Now they’ll have to hope that USA is wasteful in attack, and that playmaker Yoreli Rincón and goal-scoring winger Lady Andrade (who had another terrific game against the English) can make some magic happen on their end.
We only scored one goal! Is USA’s offense still broken?
Keep in mind that USA opted to play more conservatively with the lead after Nigeria’s Sarah Nnomdi was red-carded. The team did generally look better with Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach starting. The first-place finish means that they have an extra day to rest and heal, but it’s looking more and more like Wambach can’t go the full 90 minutes any more. USA coach Jill Ellis could start her and then sub her off in the late stages, but that would mean committing a precious substitution to that in advance and cutting down on her options off the bench. She may have to rotate attackers in the knockout stages. If it works, she’ll be a genius. If she gets something wrong, she’ll be the idiot coach who sabotaged a potential World Cup winner. She needs to choose carefully.
How’s it possible that the Nigeria game was Morgan’s first-ever World Cup start?
Four years ago, Pia Sundhage saw her as a sub off the bench, hoping to use her speed against tiring defenses. However, in the final, Morgan had to come on early when Lauren Cheney (now Lauren Holiday) got hurt, and she played well enough to have been voted MVP of the match had USA pulled out the victory. Now, the soccer world knows that Morgan’s not a one-trick pony, and that she can do more than just run by people. She would have started the first two games of this World Cup had she been healthy. We can only hope now that she can find her way back to her world-destroying self.
What was the deal with Nigeria coach Edwin Okon trying to dodge the postgame handshake with Ellis?
I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t see her at first. Maybe he was frustrated with Nigeria’s exit from the tournament. Maybe he didn’t want to shake hands with someone openly gay. Maybe he saw New Zealand coach Tony Readings do the same against China and thought that was a good idea. Or, since Okon refuses to read scouting reports or make substitutions, maybe we just shouldn’t look for logic in what he does.
Isn’t Nigeria kind of a homophobic place?
Four years ago, the Super Falcons’ coach boasted publicly about purging lesbians from her team. That coach is gone now and Okon doesn’t engage in that rhetoric, but Grant Wahl reported sources inside the country telling him of some players left off the squad because they were suspected of being gay. This much is certain: Homosexuality there is punishable by 14 years in prison (in the Christian-controlled south) or death by stoning (in the Muslim-controlled north). Even if the country’s anti-gay laws were to be repealed tomorrow, angry mobs would likely take violence into their own hands. It was satisfying, then, to see two of USA’s openly gay players (Wambach and Megan Rapinoe) combine on the goal that beat Nigeria.
Who’s the other one?
Ali Krieger. They are three of the 17 openly gay players in the field.
What was the best game of the group stage?
The last one. You figured South Korea vs. Spain would be good because of both teams needing wins to survive. However, because of the unbalanced structure of the tournament (with some but not all of the third-place teams advancing), South Korea vs. Spain had ramifications for teams outside their group, too. It’s too bad that Spain lost on a fluky play by Kim So-yun when her cross missed all her teammates but still fell into the net. (She can claim it was a lob, but it was a cross.) It’s also too bad for Vero, who scored her first and only goal of this World Cup and deserved to be a soccer hero for her nation after all her efforts to promote her sport in Spain’s machista culture. (She also started the petition that got women’s teams onto FIFA 16.) Still, the Koreans never lost heart and came back to pull out the victory. Their run probably ends against France in the next round, but you wouldn’t want to count them out.
What’s the best matchup of the Round of 16?
Germany drew the booby prize when Sweden finished third in the group, so they face each other in the next round. Either the dark horse Swedes or the mighty Germans will be going home much sooner than they figured. Also, that Australia vs. Brazil game looks interesting, with the Matildas’ speed going up against Brazil’s short passing game.
Who else should we watch out for?
After losing to Colombia, France came out in the final game against Mexico and played the sort of beautiful, free-flowing football that we expect from them. If Les Bleues have found their groove, everyone needs to beware.
Who are you sad to see leave?
Costa Rica. The team couldn’t win a game, but they competed ferociously in all three of their games. They showed no fear against even Brazil, and goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz had a tremendous game between the sticks, coming within 10 minutes of a hard-earned clean sheet. Let’s hope we’ll see more of Las Ticas in future tournament.
Costa Rica is Las Ticas. France is Les Bleues. Nigeria are the Super Falcons. Why don’t we have a cool nickname?
I’d point out that most of the team nicknames are feminized versions of the men’s teams from that country (Los Ticos, Les Bleus, the Super Eagles). New Zealand’s nickname “The Football Ferns” was chosen by public submission in 2007. The nickname replaced the dopey “Swanz,” so that’s a definite improvement. China has the best nickname: “The Steel Roses.” Still, USA, Germany, and Norway have all done well for themselves without a catchy nickname, so there.
What the hell was Clint Dempsey thinking?
No idea, but his act of petulance forced Seattle Sounders to finish their U.S. Open Cup game with the rarely-seen 3-3-0 formation. We might have to play the Gold Cup without him now. Bad form, Deuce.