Lessons Learned From The Women’s World Cup

One final post about the 2011 World Cup to sum up a few of the lessons that we learned from this tournament.

The gap is not closing; it has closed.  Japan, whose only prior decent World Cup result was the 1995 quarterfinals, won.  France, for so long a non-contender, came in 4th.  Only three teams scored four goals in a single match, and there were no humiliating 7-0. 8-0, 11-0 blowouts like in previous years.  The traditional minnows did themselves proud–New Zealand got its first point ever, and Nigeria beat Canada while holding France and Germany to merely one goal apiece.  Equatorial Guinea played extremely well, scored two goals, and introduced the world to unique defending techniques.  Even the two worst teams of the tournament, North Korea and Colombia, each managed a draw (against each other.)  In contrast, Norway, one of the greats of the early game, have fallen into mediocrity and will probably never recover their former glory.

Teams from Asia can dominate this competition for some time to come.  Japan won, a young Australia side reached its second consecutive quarterfinal, and South Korea is knocking at the door (no doubt fueled by a desire to beat Japan.)  Maybe China will want to support their own once-great program (again, no doubt fueled by a desire to beat Japan.)  Asia has arrived.

Lightning strikes twice.  Apparently the lightning that was responsible for the North Korean loss to the United States was also responsible for their positive doping result.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Brazil is the team of the future… and always will be.  Brazil is far and away the most talented squad and boasts the best player in the world, but the CBF, Brazil’s football association, does not care about them.  Therefore the team does not get together until just before major tournaments, gets incompetent coaches, and does not even have their own kits.  Every other team in the tournament was wary of Brazil and scared of Marta, but in the end Brazil were undone as much by the CBF as by the US.  On a related note, I got my answer to why Spain do not have a good women’s side, and it is even more deflating than what is going on with Brazil. When a manager who wins nothing keeps a job for nearly three decades, that reveals an apathy bordering on malice.

Defense cannot win tournaments, but it can lose them.  I have said this before but it bears some repeating.  A defender is really in a no-win situation.  When they do well they are generally ignored, and when they are noticed, it is usually because they are being scapegoated.  A striker can miss 99 of 100 chances, but that one chance could win the match, and all is forgiven.  A defender can brilliantly prevent 99 out of 100 chances, yet that one missed opportunity can lose the match, and then the knives come out.  Thus it was yesterday with the US.  The match never should have gotten to penalties.  The US had the match won twice and lost it twice because the defense failed twice.  Even though the US offense blew chance after chance in the first half hour, the defense still bears the lion’s share of the blame.

I know more about this World Cup than FIFA does.  Have you seen FIFA’s All Star Team?  Maybe someone can explain the logic to me, because to my eyes there are some ridiculous selections there, particularly in defense.  Shannon Boxx?  Saskia Bartusiak?  Laura Georges?  Érika?  Elise Kellond-Knight?  Admittedly, I put Faye White on my team, but I recanted and apologized yesterday.  My team of the tournament looks far more like Jeff Kassouf’s than FIFA’s, and since I trust Kassouf for insight into the women’s game far more than I do FIFA, I feel redeemed.

Homare Sawa belongs on the Greatest Ever list.  If the last World Cup was the real beginning of Marta’s legacy, this World Cup ended Sawa’s in a fairy tale finish.  Women’s football has had it’s fair share of great leaders, but Sawa is second to none.  She was her team’s engine and their inspiration.  Whenever Japan were in trouble, she worked some of her magic, and led them to victory.  Every award that she won and will win are completely deserved.  Now if only I can fit her on my Greatest Ever team.

North American teams need a rethink.  As I write this, I am listening to Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc on World Football Daily.  She had a fascinating take on the World Cup and on Canada’s plight, but something needs to change after Canada’s woeful tournament.  The US had a far better tournament than Canada, but the signs are ominous.  Although they outplayed Japan, against Sweden, Brazil, and France the US were the technically deficient side.  In both the US and Canada there are problems from the ground up, and as Canada showed, without major corrections there will be humiliations in World Cups to come.  As for Mexico, without Maribel Domínguez that team’s future is in limbo.  Mexico have players with great technique, but one wonders if they can pull it together without their leader.

In football, no one is invulnerable.*  In retrospect, perhaps Japan’s upset of Germany is not quite as momentous as it seemed at the time.  Nevertheless, Germany were the heavy favorites, especially at home.  They looked awful in the group stages, and their result can be described only as a major failure.  Silvia Neid has, for the first time, come under pressure although I believe she is keeping her post.  The legacy of Birgit Prinz is in tatters, and for the first time in a while, the reputation of Germany’s women’s team has come into question.

The 2015 World Cup will be fantastic.  Or it won’t be.  This World Cup was the most competitive ever.  The top teams of each continent are much closer in quality than they ever have been.  If 2015 were another 16-team tournament, one would expect the quality level to stay the same.  However, the tournament is increasing to 24 teams, and one wonders if lower-ranked teams from South America, Africa, and Asia will be able to continue the trend.**

Enjoy the players we have.  Americans cannot live in the past, Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck, Briana Scurry, and Brandi Chastain are long gone.  Now we have Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Lauren Cheney, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, and Heather O’Reilly.  They too are great players, and deserve our admiration.

The women’s game is worth watching.  The proof is in the pudding.  The tournament was fantastic, the quality of football was excellent.  Support your local club; the players will love you back.

Footnotes:

* For further emphasis about how no one is invulnerable in football check out the Copa America results from this weekend.  Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile all lost in the quarterfinals to Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, and Venezuela respectively. The gap among the South American men has also closed.

**  In particular I am thinking of Argentina, Chile, Ghana, Cameroon, and South Africa, all of whom have a terrific chance for qualifying for 2015, but whose international record is spotty at best.  To a lesser extent, I also wonder about Asian teams outside of East Asia/Australia, although I suspect none will qualify for 2015.