The third place match saw a brutal, artless match between France and Sweden. Sweden won it, but the real surprise was my own reaction to Sonia Bompastor’s blatant and unpunished cheating: I wanted Sweden to win. And dance.
Sweden v. France
The match that no one wants to see lived down to the anti-hype. This was a snoozer. If you ever plan on watching the 2011 World Cup matches at a later date, skip this one. It wasn’t the worst match of the tournament (surely nothing could beat Colombia v. North Korea), but it was anticlimactic, rather than an interesting Germany v. Uruguay type match from last year. Unless you hate the French team in general and Sonia Bompastor specifically, just watch the highlights. Sweden won 2-1.
Despite the fact that France was the revelation of the World Cup, since elimination the French side has been doing their best since to erase that good will. Louisa Necib told every reporter who would listen that France were the better side and deserved to win (there’s that “d” word again), and coach Bruno Bini had the audacity to say that he would rather his team lose beautifully than win ugly–a direct attack on the US. No doubt this insult was also a way to avoid responsibility for being outcoached by Pia Sundhage and for his horrible substitutions in that match, which swung the momentum decisively in the US’s favor.* Any team that falls back on that beautiful loser nonsense is just kidding itself. All those great teams that never won the World Cup (Hungary ’54, Holland ’74, Brazil ’82) would have gladly given up their beautiful style for the win–even if Johan Cruyff will not admit it. France went into the US match positive that they were going to win. They cheered when the US beat Brazil because they feared Marta and Brazil and not the US. That disrespect cost them.
France bought into its own hype. Yes, they have style, but whenever they faced a team who could out-muscle them, they folded. First was Germany, when France, thanks to Bini, did not even try to win. In the semifinal, France fell apart when the US did not fold under their pressure. Today, Sweden too was not overawed by France’s style, and used their superior strength to beat them. As well as France did in getting to the semifinals, one should also remember that Les Bleues are, along with Canada and Equatorial Guinea, one of only three teams to have lost three matches at this tournament.
Another problem with Bini’s decision-making was highlighted today. Throughout the entire tournament, France’s biggest weak spot was the goalkeeper. Bérangère Sapowicz is not a national team goalkeeper, her decision-making is questionable, and she is particularly poor in the air (that she publicly announced that is shocking but accurate.) She was not France’s first choice keeper; that is Lyon’s Sarah Bouhaddi. Since the beginning of the tournament the ESPN commentators have been vaguely hinting about personality conflicts that kept Bouhaddi out of the squad, but never actually said what they were. Today, Kate Markgraf finally stopped beating around the bush. Bouhaddi and French captain Sandrine Soubeyrand hate each other, and Bini left the keeper out. As a result France played the tournament with two sub-par goalkeepers (Sapowicz and Céline Deville who filled in after Sapowicz’s red card against Germany and her injury today.)**
The French need to get off their high horse. They are not above some unethical or rough play, particularly when Sonia Bompastor is on the pitch. Bompastor is the best left back in the tournament, but she is also a dirty, dirty player. In the quarterfinals Kelly White almost punched her. Today, Bompastor tackled Josefine Öqvist, kicked her, and then put on a show of pain when Öqvist retaliated. Öqvist was entirely wrong, that is without question. You never, ever retaliate when you are being goaded like that; your antagonist knows that she will get away with it and you won’t. That is exactly what happened to Öqvist. Sort of. Öqvist was red-carded in the 68th minute for losing her head. Bompastor was not disciplined, but I think Bompastor did not reckon with the crowd reaction. She got the Marta treatment only unlike Marta, she actually deserved it. The crowd was brutal, and I don’t think Bompastor was prepared to be the villain. She was almost invisible afterwards and furious after the match.
It is important to remember though that France did not lose this match, Sweden won it. Despite going down to 10 players, they never lost their head and regained the lead in the 82nd minute thanks to a beautiful strike from Swedish defender Marie Hammarström. Now Sweden have a bronze medal to go along with their bronze from 1991 and the silver from 2003. Lotta Schelin (who, being the lone Swedish Lyon player, imported Lyon’s stupid goal celebration to her Swedish side) scored the opener, continued her general attacking excellence, if not prolific scoring. Schelin has been Sweden’s best player this tournament, and probably will be on the FIFA Team of the Tournament (she was an alternate for my team.)
Sweden had an excellent tournament. Regardless of who wins, Sweden will have a better tournament record than the team that loses the final. If the US wins, then they can (and will) claim that they beat the best side, with the inference that they were better. Sweden have not been the most thrilling of sides, but they have been one of the most effective. For that alone, their bronze medal is richly deserved. Now please just make the goal dance go away.
* What is it with French coaches? They become so philosophical that they border on crazy. Bini is merely the latest example. Raymond Domenech (who used astrology charts to choose his lineups) should never have been let near a football pitch. The only reason his 2006 France team did as well as it did is because Zidane took control of the team and dragged them to the finals. Without Zidane the team fell apart. Arsene Wenger, one of France’s best coaches, has also in recent years been afflicted by the beautiful loser syndrome which is why Arsenal is no longer a title contenders.
** Also according to Markgraf, another reason Bouhaddi was kept out was because of her abilities to inflict horrific injuries such as the one she inflicted on Swedish legend Hanna Ljungberg, an injury that helped end Ljungberg’s career (something the Swedes have not forgotten.)