Day 8 saw Australia beating Equatorial Guinea 3-2 despite a baffling missed call from a referee, and Brazil thrash Norway 3-0 due in large part to skill and talent of guess who!
Australia v. Equatorial Guinea
Confession: I did not see this match in full. I wanted to, but I also wanted to sleep this morning. Therefore I only saw most of the second half, and the highlights. However, that was enough to know that Australia were much better than Equatorial Guinea. On the other hand, I knew before the tournament that Australia were going to beat Equatorial Guinea. In fact, I am starting to feel that my prediction that Norway would go through was incredibly short-sighted.
The talking point of the match thus far is a botched call by the referee. Australia, leading 1-0, had a shot on goal that was picked up by Equatoguinean defender Bruna while the ball was still in play. Bruna thought there was a free kick for an off side, but there wasn’t. Her actions should have led to a penalty kick. The referee missed this completely. About five minutes later, Equatorial Guinea’s super striker Genoveva Añonma scored the equalizer against Australia. Fortunately for the referee, Australia still won, so her mistake will quickly fade from collective memory.
I have sympathy for the referee. Unlike in the Germany/Nigeria game, this match did not become a brouhaha (although Equatorial Guinea, like Nigeria, got very physical.) Although she missed a very obvious call, that call did not alter the match outcome. In fact, it in no way harms Australia at all because even if the Matildas tie Norway in the next match, they will have the edge on goal differential and qualify for the knockout stages. The referee issued a sincere apology afterwards, which is very rare. (As Tony DiCicco pointed out in the commentary booth, an apology is far more than the no response the US got after the men’s team was robbed of a victory against Slovenia by a completely incorrect call.) Hopefully this one mistake will not impact her career. I don’t see why it should if Howard Webb can still referee at a high level of competition after he allowed last year’s war of attrition that masqueraded as a World Cup final.
I also have immense sympathy for Equatorial Guinea. A large part of their problems are self-inflicted, such as fielding players who have played on other nations’ senior sides (a major violation of the rules.) But a number of Equatorial Guinea’s problems are not have come from outside and are not the team’s fault, particularly the unfounded charge that they fielded men. It is awful for players such as Añonma to be accused of that and then have to play in front of the judgmental eyes of the world, which take any accusation as gospel.
Equatorial Guinea have been more than punished for their off-the-field mistakes. During this tournament, FIFA, whose ability to make something bad far worse is unparalleled, declared that Equatorial Guinea has been disqualified from Olympic qualification because they fielded disallowed players. Although the punishment is appropriate, the timing of the announcement was highly unfair. FIFA could have waited, but when has FIFA ever done anything right?
It is easy to forget that despite the glitz, and the media spectacle, and the occasional boorish behavior, professional footballers, especially those who represent their country are doing this because of a love for the game and a desire to give joy to a crowd of people. With the occasional exception, these are not bad people who do not deserve to be treated like pariahs. They sacrifice their health and their bodies, and more often than not a career is ruined before it can truly begin. This goes double to the women who have to fight four times as hard to get a quarter of the attention. And how much more so for those women who play on behalf of apathetic and/or corrupt federations who barely treat the men’s teams right let alone the women’s?
I may have been a little harsh of Beth Mowins and Cat Whitehill the other day after lambasting them for their inability to properly pronounce the name of Genoveva Añonma. Today Adrian Healey and Kate Markgraf called the match, and the had a completely different pronunciation of her name (a-NOHN-ma). Also, the back of Añonma’s jersey read Añonman, which is (a) not the name she is known as, and (b) a different name than she wore the other day. So I apologize for being harsh, and I’ll agree not to worry about it anymore, because Equatorial Guinea have only one more match before they go home. Who knows if they will ever be back.
Brazil v. Norway
I have come to the conclusion that watching Brazil can make a person bipolar. Today, Julie Foudy said exactly what I and many other have been saying for some time. If the CBF were to give the same kind of care and attention to the women that their male counterparts were given, they would be an unbeatable world force. There is no other team that has Brazil’s talent. Obviously there is Marta, but Marta is not the whole team. There is also Andréia, Cristiane, Rosana, Ester, Renata Costa, Formiga, Maurine, and others. And this is not to mention all the talent they have had in the past (Pretinha, Sissi, Maycon, Daniela, etc.) I cannot think of any other squad that has such exquisite talent and creativity. Yet they are constantly fighting an uphill battle, even more so now with no preparation, a tactically inept coach, and a world that is closing the gap.
And yet, unlike so many of the other teams in this tournament, Brazil only need a moment of magic to completely change the match around. Finishing has been a major problem for teams at this tournament. Not Brazil. They may not have created all the chances of other teams, but when they have, they have used it to tremendous advantage. In two matches, they have scored four goals, two from Marta and two from Rosana. (Although Cristiane has not yet scored, she was very much involved in three of the four goals.) All four of those goals have left the viewer open-mouthed in awe at the skill. The last time Norway was shut out in the group stages was 1991, the first Women’s World Cup. Yet today they were held to nothing. Despite dominating the early part of the match, Norway could not make anything work. Once Marta got her amazing first goal in (in part aided some of the so-called “dark arts”) Norway fell apart. The two goals in the second half came within minutes of each other and immediately after the second half began. It was all over by the 49th minute.
The irony is that Norway is the one country that the Brazilian men cannot beat. Not that they play very much.
Today was Marta’s day with two goals and an assist on the third. If in the last match she was did not perform to her potential, today she was everything. In addition to scoring two goals, she assisted Rosana’s goal. And by assist, I mean she drew all the defenders to her with a mesmerizing run, leaving Rosana completely open, and then she passed to Rosana who scored with ease. In scoring two goals, Marta is now tied for second in most overall goals scored at the Women’s World Cup. It is fitting that the woman she tied with is Michelle Akers, the only other legitimate candidate for the title of greatest female football player ever (sorry Mia Hamm fans, but you know I’m right.) It also means that Marta is now just two goals behind the leader, Birgit Prinz. If Marta were to overtake in three World Cups what took Prinz four to set, that would make an already difficult tournament for the German unbearable.
Unlike all of the other nations who have legitimate designs on winning the title, Brazil have already done the hard work and beat both their tough group stage opponents. In contrast, Germany still has to play France, Japan still has to play England, and the US still has to play Sweden. Although Group D is not finished, it really is. Brazil eked out a win over Australia and crushed Norway. While those two teams will battle each other tooth and nail for a spot in the quarterfinals, Brazil have to play Equatorial Guinea, who has already been eliminated. More important than winning, Brazil will need to avoid injuries and cards and use that match to shore up whatever weaknesses the Seleção have (i.e. defense,* which DiCicco pretty convincingly pulled apart in his post-match analysis.) Brazil will need more than just the occasional flashes of magic if they really want to win this World Cup, and this is where the hard work begins.
* The stereotype of Brazil (men and women) is that the offense is spectacular and the defense leaks like a sieve. At least for the men, and probably also for the women, this is just not true. Brazil pretty much invested the back four and the attacking fullbacks in the 1958 World Cup. To date, the Brazilian men have allowed fewer goals in than any other major World Cup nation, including the stereotypical defensive powerhouse Germany.