In the days before the final (and third place match), there is little to write about, and I am not quite ready to risk predictions today. Instead I am going to pick a team of the tournament (which I think will remain the same even after the final two matches.) I went with a 4-3-3 even though no team actually used that formation.
Agree? Disagree? Want to give your own team of the tournament? Please leave comments.
Team of the Tournament
Ali Krieger – Christie Rampone – Faye White – Sonia Bompastor
Camille Abily – Homare Sawa – Louisa Necib
Genoveva Añonma – Abby Wambach – Marta
Super Sub: Megan Rapinoe
Precious Dede, Ali Riley, Lauren Cheney, Lotta Schelin, Cristiane, Kerstin Garefrekes, Maribel Domínguez, Heather O’Reilly, Aya Miyama
Goalkeeper: Hope Solo is the best in the world, and in my opinion the best there ever was. She saved the Americans time and time again, never more so than in the quarterfinal match against Brazil. Her only competition, and this is a distant second, is Precious Dede of Nigeria, who let in a grand total of only two goals the entire tournament–one to France and one to Germany. Not a bad showing.
Right Back: This was actually the hardest position for me to pick, because there were so many good candidates. Ali Krieger was the class of the tournament, but not far behind her was Ali Riley of New Zealand who was the brightest spot of a developing team. (and who is also generally excellent for the Western New York Flash.) Special mention to Equatoguinean right back Bruna, she of the now infamous Hand of Oh My God! It is not that Bruna was a class above everyone else consistently (hence she did not make my alternates bench), but her man-marking of Marta was a class for most of the match. She shadowed Marta so effectively, that she kept the Brazilian quiet until the very end. How effective was it? When Marta went to talk to her coach, Bruna followed her, (and since Bruna speaks Portuguese, it prevented any kind of communication.)
Center Backs: I admit the choices here were somewhat sentimental. It was hard to choose center backs because unlike the outside backs, center backs tend to get singled out more for their few mistakes than the (many more) times they successfully stop the attack. The center back takes more abuse from the goalkeeper than anyone else because they are always at the back (unlike the full backs who charge down the flanks). Center back is not a glamorous position, but it is an extremely important one. Being a center back requires intelligence and leadership. The center backs keep the shape of the defense, and it is no surprise that center backs make the best captains. With that in mind, my center backs were Christie Rampone and Faye White, two very successful veterans. Few could argue with my choice of Rampone, who has been a rock at the back, but White is tougher to justify. Overlook the missed penalty kick that will probably haunt her forever. The truth is that England’s defense was very good, and White, as captain, was responsible for that. England just came up short against a far superior team, and even that superior team only won because of the roulette wheel that is penalty kicks not because they broke down White’s defense (and she was hobbled by the end of that match.)
Left Back: Right back offered too many good choices, but there is only one choice for left back: Sonia Bompastor. She was the only good part of France’s defense, and her charges down the left were a terror to all teams that opposed her. She was also the only person to truly beat Hope Solo on goal, a goal that made Solo furious. Bompastor is the best left back in the women’s game.
Right Midfield: This was another really tough position. Camille Abily scored only one goal this tournament. Nevertheless, her contributions were tremendous to an excellent French side. It was very hard to decide between Abily, Heather O’Reilly, and Kerstin Garefrekes, but in my opinion, Abily just ekes out O’Reilly. O’Reilly was very important to the US side; when she sat out with an injury, the US lost. Garefrekes was one of the few bright spots of an imploding Germany. Blame Silvia Neid and Birgit Prinz, but Garefrekes was blameless.
Central Midfield: Homare Sawa. Because Japan are such a great team, and each player makes the others better, it is very difficult to separately honor any of the Japanese players individually, and I have done them a disservice by not including more on this list. One Japanese player stands head and shoulder above everyone though: Sawa. She is the intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual engine behind her team’s machine, and she is the player of the tournament. She is the only player in the tournament thus far to score a hat trick, and her assist for Karina Maruyama’s goal gave Japan its most important win ever. Alas, there is only one choice, because there are so many good contenders. Lauren Cheney deserves some appreciation; when she is at center, she is one of the most creative US players. (The problem was that she often started on the left and then moved into center, which is why she is not more competitive on this team.) Had Germany done better, Simon Laudehr would be on my list somewhere. Give a little love for the veterans Formiga and Kelly White who are playing in their last tournament; if there were a lifetime achievement award, both would get it. Finally,some mention should go to Kim Kulig of Germany and Nilla Fischer of Sweden, who proved that when the starting center midfielder is not playing, a team can go south very quickly (especially when the opponent is Japan.)
Left Midfield: This is cheating a little bit I suppose. Louisa Necib was an attacking midfielder for most of the tournament, but she is one of the breakout stars of this tournament, and I had to include her. Therefore I am moving her to left with the understanding that at some point in the second half Megan Rapinoe, another break out star, will come in for her. Necib is one of the most graceful players out there, and was repeatedly compared to her countryman Zinedine Zidane who is also of Algerian heritage, as was repeated ad nauseam. Hopefully she will not get crushed under the weight of that comparison because Necib has talent, creativity, and ball striking ability to spare. Rapinoe lost her starting spot, but rather than sulk a la Prinz she became the best substitute of the tournament. She was responsible for both Abby Wambach’s tying goal against Brazil, and Alex Morgan’s beautiful chip goal against France, and she scored a goal of her own against Colombia (Born in the USA!.) Another great player is Aya Miyama whose mastered the art of the set piece. How the Japanese produce such consistently good players in that department is beyond me.
Right Wing: One of the other major breakout stars of this tournament was Genoveva Añonma. She only scored two goals, a brace against Australia, but they were her team’s only goals. That pretty much describes Equatorial Guinea. Añonma kept that team afloat. She was their everything. Even though Equatorial Guinea was eliminated, Añonma announced herself as one of the world’s attackers.
Center Forward: Abby Wambach. It’s hard to remember now that coming into the tournament, Abby Wambach could not score a goal to save her life. This was exacerbated in the match against Colombia where attempt after attempt refused to go in no matter how well she struck the ball or how fortuitous the opportunity. It was not until after her should-have-been-illegal, off-the-shoulder goal against Sweden that the floodgates opened. It’s not that Wambach scored so many goals though as much as when she scored: the tying goal against Brazil and the winner against France. Wambach’s ability to carry her team is second only to Sawa. There is no one else who could be the center forward. There are however, honorable mentions. Maribel Domínguez and Lotta Schelin, although not high scorers carried their teams. Domínguez is a particularly poignant case. If she were ten years younger, Mexico would be a force in the foreseeable future. Hopefully the team will be able to live in the house Domínguez built, but unfortunately Marigol has to move on. Special mention must also be given to Christine Sinclair who kept Canada in contention against Germany and then played through a broken nose. Canada deserved better than its finish and so did Sinclair. Because they didn’t, Sinclair missed out on the team.
Left Wing: Marta. The best player in the world and possibly of all time. Brazil exited early but that is the fault of federation and coach, not of Marta who scored four goals, two in spectacular fashion that only Marta could pull off. That is not to mention her the other parts of her game: (1) her assists, and (2) by virtue of being Marta, she kept opposing defenders occupied long enough for her teammates to score.