We’re through two matches at the Women’s World Cup, with USA reaching the round of 16 like everyone expected them to after a breezy 3-0 win against Chile. Coach Jill Ellis has now used every player on her team, other than backup goalkeepers Ashlyn Harris and Adrianna Franch. Let’s get right to it.
Only three goals?
The scoreline reflected the spectacular saves made by Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler and her defense not quitting after they gave up the first three goals. (The two causes are related, because a keeper making great saves will do wonders for a defense’s confidence.) Also, USA rested many of their starters, including their entire forward line. Carli Lloyd still scored two (and missed a late penalty that would have given her the hat trick), with Julie Ertz heading in a corner kick to round things out.
So, USA didn’t ease up after all the PR flak they took for scoring 13 on Thailand?
This is part of a ridiculous controversy that erupted after USA’s historic victory. The same day as that game, Germany’s men rang up eight goals against Estonia in a Euro 2020 qualifier, and nobody called the Germans bad sports for doing so. Instead, they said, “Wow, Estonia is bad at this.” A cup tournament’s system rewards running up the score whenever you have an opportunity — Sweden could only score five goals against Thailand in their game (and they even gave up one!), so now USA only needs a draw against the Swedes in their final group-stage match to grab first place and presumably a more favorable opponent in the round of 16. The other part of this is whether USA needed to celebrate after each goal against the Thais. They might have done less, perhaps, but then, let’s watch the highlights from a 2010 women’s hockey game in which Slovakia notched 82 goals against Bulgaria.
Seems like not celebrating goals at all, if anything, is even more demoralizing for the team that’s giving them up. The nice thing is that this tournament is being played in France, where USA’s players can be at a distance from all this foolishness.
Who else advanced?
England coach Phil Neville (who once bragged about beating his wife on Twitter) rotated his squad against Argentina, and it almost backfired. Striker Jodie Taylor came in for Ellen White, and though she tapped in the only goal of the game, she was pretty bad, completely out of sync with her offensive teammates and fluffing the few chances that did come her way. England are in the round of 16 regardless, along with France, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, and Sweden. The surprise among this group has been Italy, with a last-gasp win over Australia and a dominating one over Jamaica. I mentioned last time that Italy’s women have had way less success than their men in this sport, but this year’s team looks like the men: one badass defender in Sara Gama, patient buildup through the midfield in Aurora Galli and Manuela Giugliano, and a creator who’s capable of magic in Barbara Bonansea. The Women’s World Cup now does what the men’s tournament did 20 or 40 years ago — it gives fans a chance to see brilliant players like Bonansea and Endler who don’t enjoy a great deal of exposure overseas.
Because group play only eliminates eight of the 24 teams, everyone is mathematically still alive, though South Africa will need a lopsided win over the strongest team in their group (Germany) to have a prayer. South Korea is in similar circumstances, and regardless of what happens in their last game against Norway, it’s been a disappointing showing for the country, who haven’t scored yet despite having one of the world’s best attackers in Ji So-yon. We’ve got some fascinating matchups with Brazil vs. Italy, China vs. Spain, and England vs. Japan, all of them with qualifying places to play for. There’s also a Canada vs. Netherlands matchup that should allow us to gauge just how good the Dutch are. Argentina is, remarkably, in good position after their draw against Japan and a one-goal loss to England (during which much-maligned goalkeeper Vanina Correa played magnificently). If they can beat Scotland, they’ll be certain to qualify for the knockout stages. Considering that this team had ceased to exist three years ago, that would be a huge accomplishment. Let’s hope that Argentina can get the electric power back on so that their people can watch the game.
Why do England and Scotland play separately?
People familiar with the men’s game will know the answer to this, but this issue hasn’t come up on the women’s side because the non-England “Home Countries” (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) haven’t been a factor in women’s soccer until now. The first game between national teams in 1872 was between England and Scotland, and when other European countries started fielding their teams, England and Scotland wanted their teams separate for reasons of national pride. Since they were at that time producing many of the world’s best players between them, they got their way. That is how the sport has gone ever since, despite the grumbling of other European countries who have had to deal with Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland teams that have been troublesome at various points. There have been periodic pushes for a unified British team, but the only place where that happens is at the Olympic soccer tournament. (By the way, whether Team Great Britain qualifies for the 2020 Games depends on how England does in this World Cup, which puts Scotland in the perverse position of wanting England to do well.) Given how disastrously Brexit has been managed, Scotland might break away from the U.K. again in the near future, which would render all this moot.
What should we expect from the USA-Sweden match?
As I mentioned before, USA only needs a draw, but playing for a draw against a team like Sweden is too dangerous. I would expect most if not all of the starters to be back in the lineup while the Swedes press for a win that they don’t need but would very much like to have. Like their men’s team, the Swedish women pride themselves on being well-organized and difficult to beat. Hope you enjoyed the two easy USA victories, because the games will get much harder from now.