After failing miserably at predicting winners during last year’s World Cup, I have redeemed myself somewhat by correctly predicting all eight quarterfinalists at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Not that it was that difficult.
Each round in the group stages of a football tournament has its own feel. The first round is about the initial look, and therefore teams tend to be skittish about each other and themselves. The second round is a chance for redemption from a bad result or a solidification of a good one. The final round is about resignation, desperation, or domination.
That is not however, a universal truth. Today’s match between Great Britain and Brazil had very little to do with resignation, desperation, or domination. Both teams were going to go through to the quarterfinals regardless of the result, and both quarterfinals will be difficult regardless of opponent. Yet, this match was as Wembly Stadium, one of football’s most storied sites. Team GB was playing at home in front of 70,000 strong crown. Just as the Atlanta Olympics put women’s football in the US in the public eye, these Olympics could do the same for women’s football in Britain. That the opponent was Brazil, spiritual guardian of the Beautiful Game and the nation of Marta, only added to the importance of the match.
Britain v. Brazil was the third of the big three matches (US v. France in Round 1 and Japan v. Sweden in Round 2), and it did not disappoint. Predicting the future is impossible, but I believe that this was the turning point for Brazil. They have been found out. When they cannot rely solely on their superior footballing abilities, they perform very poorly–and the rest of the world is improving quickly. The side that this Brazil women’s team is most like is the 1982 Brazil World Cup team. Beautiful but lacking the winning edge.
Great Britain is by no means the most talented squad in the tournament, but they are full of individual talent, most notably Kelly Smith. They also have a decent coach in Hope Powell. A GB goal in the second minute rattled Brazil, but the truth is that the Samba Queens were just bettered from start to finish. GB missed a few chances to widen the score, but they were not made to pay for it (GB is the only team not to give up a goal this tournament thus far). A 1-0 win for GB. Readers of this blog know of my dislike for England’s men’s football team, but I have nothing aside from the utmost respect for the English women (and GB is mostly England). I wish them and especially Kelly Smith good luck in the tournament. Truth be told, it is far more likely that GB will medal than Brazil will. which is a tragedy for Marta.
In other Group E news, New Zealand finally won a match and have advanced to quarterfinals. Yes, it was against Cameroon, and yes, the 3-1 victory was aided by a Cameroonian own goal. But take nothing away from New Zealand; with each tournament the Football Ferns have improved by leaps and bounds. One can only hope that this tournament is a stepping stone to even better results. New Zealand are the younger sibling of the Anglophone world, and who doesn’t want to see his kid brother or sister do well?
The way the quarterfinal draw has worked out, it can divided into two halves: the Anglophone and non-Anglophone halves. In one half Canada play GB and New Zealand take on the United States, while in the other half Sweden meet France (a rematch of the 3rd place match from last year’s World Cup) and Japan stare down Brazil. If the Anglophone half looks easier to you, you’re not alone. In fact, the non-Anglophone half fields the four best teams in the world excluding the US and Germany.
Nothing that Sweden or Japan could have done would have made a difference other than swapping opponents. Both had the same record, 1-2-0, but Sweden had a better goal difference. Japan have not scored a goal since its first match against Canada. I am not sure what Sweden’s excuse is, they were up 2-0 against Canada and ended up with a 2-2 draw. Sweden are the eternal bridesmaid in international tournaments. Prior to the first World Cup in 1991, they were one of the dominant teams in the world, and had the World Cup started a decade earlier, no doubt they would have won at least one. (The US coach Pia Sundhage was a member of the Sweden National Team for years.) But the World Cup began when the US and Norway were in their ascendancy, and Sweden have yet to win a big prize.
Japan at least had a game plan, which was go for a draw. Japan deliberately fielded a weakened team and intended to come in second so that they did not have to leave Cardiff. This meant that South Africa actually got a result instead of three straight losses like Cameron and Colombia. I suppose a draw is a draw, and that is respectable, but given that Japan deliberately played for a draw rather than a win, if I am a South African player do I feel good or bad about the result?
In the final group, the US and France each beat their opponents by a 1-0 score. France over Colombia, a team that I am completely done with, and the US over North Korea. The US dominated the first half despite only scoring one goal, and held on for the second as starters were rested. The real story of the US though has been the ongoing saga of woe that Hope Solo has again created by virtue of lacking an internal editor. I don’t really want to rehash the scandal; it is everywhere and it’s embarrassing to the team. I will say though that whatever you feel about the commentating abilities of Brandi Chastain, that does not excuse Solo’s reckless mouth, which has been alienating others since 2007. Goalkeepers are a crazy breed, and Solo is no exception, but she is veering awfully close from the realm of crazy and into the realm of toxic.
This also reinforces my belief that Twitter is a very bad thing for professional athletes.
On to the quarterfinals. At the risk of making myself foolish again, my quarterfinal predictions are: Great Britain, US, France, Japan.