On Monday, USA defeated Colombia in the Women’s World Cup round of 16, and nobody seems all that happy about it. To which I say, welcome to life as a soccer superpower. If the men’s team ever reaches that status, the negativity here is going to be multiplied by several dozen times. The midfield still looked stodgy in the victory, but a win is a win. USA haven’t been overwhelming the way France and Germany have been at times, but guess what? Either France or Germany is going down in the next round, since the two teams play each other. All a team has to do is survive. (Just ask the Canadians.) Let’s get to questions:
Who deserves the most credit for the win?
USA’s defense. Much ink has been spilled on 23-year-old Julie Johnston, who wasn’t even supposed to be at the tournament but is now starting because of a string of injuries to other central defenders. She looks like a fixture back there for years to come, but the rest of the unit has successfully stifled three offenses in a row and made Hope Solo a virtual spectator in net. Colombia had their fair share of possession, but they failed to generate anything resembling a scoring chance. USA’s offense may look disjointed with time running out to fix things, but the backline is dominating people.
With Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday suspended for the quarterfinal match against China, what will Coach Jill Ellis do?
It goes without saying that USA’s next opponents won’t gift them two penalties and play the entire second half with only 10 players. Now might be the time for USA’s vaunted attacking depth to come into play. A 4-3-3 alignment would allow for three attackers, so we might see some combination of Christen Press, Sydney Leroux, Amy Rodriguez, Morgan Brian, or Alex Morgan (who’s looking closer to her regular self) try to run the Chinese off the field, with Abby Wambach on the bench as an alternative option. The question, then, is how to configure the midfield. You’d have Carli Lloyd in there, but do you play Tobin Heath as an attacking midfielder? Can Shannon Boxx, at 37, still be effective for 90 minutes? You could move Julie Johnston into a defensive midfielder role, where she has logged time in college, but do you want to mess with a defense that’s working? Ellis may decide that she liked what she saw late in the Colombia match when she installed Press as the left winger, where she struck up a promising understanding with Morgan. Fortunately, even without Holiday and Rapinoe, USA should beat an extremely offensively limited China.
Tell us more about the Chinese.
They’re not supposed to be here. They made it to the Women’s World Cup final in 1999, losing to that famous Brandi Chastain penalty kick. After the loss, the Chinese government apparently lost interest in them and withdrew much of their funding, so it has taken this long for the program to recover. The Steel Roses are the youngest team in the tournament (their oldest player is all of 26), with coach Hao Wei throwing his young players on mostly to prepare them to contend in next year’s Olympics and Women’s World Cup 2019. The fact that they’ve reached the quarterfinals this year is a nice surprise for them, though they only got past Cameroon in the round of 16 because the Indomitable Lionesses shot everywhere except the goal. (Seriously, 20 shots and they came up empty.) About a year ago, USA beat China decisively 3-0 in a friendly match. If they can upset USA, it will be huge for them. They’ll look to do so with dead-ball specialist Wang Lisi, while goalkeeper Wang Fei guards the net.
What does Colombia do now?
Go back home with the upset win over France marking the biggest victory in their team’s history. Las Cafeteras didn’t make too many friends with their playacting and gamesmanship (a hallmark of the men’s game in South America), but Lady Andrade proved to be one of the breakout stars of the tournament, and now the rest of the continent knows that Brazil aren’t the only ones there who can play.
Colombia had to play their third-string goalkeeper after Sandra Sepulveda had to serve a yellow-card suspension and Catalina Pérez got red-carded for her foul on Morgan. Didn’t some idiot on this site say that teams rarely use their third goalkeeper?
Yes, he did. The Colombians ran into extraordinary circumstances.
Who’s the biggest disappointment of the Women’s World Cup?
It must be Sweden. The Blågult were tipped as a dark horse to win this entire tournament, and instead came out without a single win, turning in a thoroughly woeful display in their round of 16 loss to the Germans. This aging team’s last shot at glory is the 2016 Olympics, and to get there, they’re going to have to win a mini-tournament with Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. Will Pia Sundhage still be around for that? We’ll see.
What else did we learn in the round of 16?
Like I said, the Germans and the French were both in frightening form during their victories over Sweden and South Korea. Canada continued to labor in their tense 1-0 squeaker over Switzerland. The Dutch women looked thoroughly outclassed and overawed in their loss to Japan, a typical win for Japan in everything except that the other team actually had the ball for long stretches. The only Dutch goal came from the goalkeeping howler of the tournament from World Cup-winning Ayumi Kaihori. Australia broke through against a Brazil team that looked out of ideas. (The Brazilians have work to do ahead of next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Amazingly, neither the men nor the women have ever won an Olympic gold medal in soccer, and they’d like nothing more than to get it done on their own soil.) England had never won a knockout-stage game at the Women’s World Cup, but they broke through in inspiring fashion, coming from behind to defeat Norway on Lucy Bronze’s screamer of a goal.
What can we expect from the next round?
France vs. Germany will be the marquee matchup of teams that are in all-conquering form, but Australia vs. Japan looks to be interesting. The Matildas were able to hold steady and use their speed to counterattack against Brazil. If they can do the same against Japan (a much better team with a similar style), they’ll deserve to be considered one of the sport’s elites, a status they’ve been knocking on the door of. Then there’s Canada vs. England. The host country has been less impressive than USA, and now they’re up against a team that, while they’re not overly exciting, is good enough to take Canada down if they don’t find their game. The Canadian fans and press have heaped pressure on the team to win the title, and the team has seemed to wear it rather heavily.
Anything to say about Norway before they leave?
Several of their players made this terrific comedy video before the tournament. I was waiting for a version with English subtitles, and it was worth the wait. The women make fun of all the stereotypes associated with women’s sports, complaining that the ball is too heavy and the pitches are too big, and somebody says, “There are lesbians everywhere!” They also pretend not to know the offside rule. In real life, no one does. The best gag is the Sepp Blatter shout-out late. USA’s next game is Friday.