Tuesday 15 August 2023

Seeing the future. Women’s World Cup semi finals

 I’d gone ashamedly Rio Ferdinand watching Australia-France’s quarter final. Don’t worry, no one got merked in the process, I just heard myself saying that “England beat both these teams” just as he had when watching the Italy-Spain Euro 20/21 semi-final. 

Although England pounced on a couple of defensive lapses to come back and beat Colombia, you could also spin it to say that they had the clinical quality to take their chances when they were presented. There seems to be no one better at that fundamental aspect of the game, and this ability to put the ball in the back of the net cuts through all the kind of chaos and endeavour that was evident in the 0-0 - 7-6 win on pens for the host nation. Maybe a fully fit Sam Kerr will make the difference tomorrow, but it’s tempting to feel that with a composed and concentrated defensive organisation, England will get through to another final, regardless of the home support. 

Italy’s men’s team in 2006 (semi final) and 2020/21 (Final) kept their cool to rise above the threat imposed by location and a partisan crowd surely isn’t enough to get the Aussies over the line. Even if England were beaten, only a Spanish surrender seems the likely route to a host nation triumph. *

Watching the Spanish against the endearing Swedes in the first semi this morning, I didn’t get the Rio observation travails to the same extent, seeing Spain move themselves and the ball around with such belief, although for a long time in the game it seemed that the same goalscoring problems besetting everyone but England would again haunt them. In France during the 2017 Euros, the cultural make-up was just the same as in the men’s game: Spain were technically superior to England but they didn’t have anyone like Jodie Taylor. 

The Swedes themselves missed a great chance through Stina  Blackstenius in the quarter final against Japan, who they imposed themselves on powerfully and offensively, unlike against USA, but an opportunistic flick home by Blackstenius’s new Arsenal team mate Amanda Ilistedt, and a penalty after customary Japanese bedlam from a corner put Sweden into the driving seat, seeing out a late scare to face Spain, who in turn pegged Sweden back for large spells in Auckland.

All three of commentator, Jonathan Pearce, co-commentator Sue Smith and Gabby Logan in the Sydney studio used “cagey” to describe the first half, which i disagreed with. It certainly wasn’t chess, which might have suited the Swedes (hey, I’m allowed to use cultural stereotypes; ABBA boomed out of the public address as soon as the final whistle went against Japan). At half-time in the studio, Fara Williams thought Sweden would make Spain pay for their possession- without-goals system. 

A substitute made the difference: 19 year old Salma Paralleulo was a menace to the Swedish defence, and after a couple of glorious opportunities wasted by team mates kept me chuntering away, she turned in a loose ball with a first time shot past Musovic, played by Peep Show’s Big Suze in the Swedish goal. Ten minutes of regulation time remained, although such things are beginning to lose their place in the world. 

Two substitutes saved Sweden, a smart header across goal by Lustig was turned expertly in by Rebecka Blomqvist, whose delight was a joy. Two goals within a few minutes to shame my assumptions regarding goalscoring prowess. Within a minute, though, Spain were back in front, the full back Olga Carmono, who reminded me of Hector Bellerin, was left alone to receive a short corner and blast past Suze, who was blamed by Pearce and Smith, which was a shame considering her recent performances. If she should have kept out the shot as they said, it wasn’t as glaring an error as say, France’s Joel Bats in Mexico 86 or anything, letting an Andreas Brehme free kick squirm under him in another semi final following his heralded thwarting of Brazil in the previous round. 

Pearce remarked that Carmona’s two previous long range efforts had been “dreadful”, when in fact the first one had skimmed just past the post, collecting a deflection off a Swedish defender’s boot along the way. A goal kick was given, despite the player’s protest - VAR, or at least the decision/policy not to use it - shown up again as the deeply flawed keeper of justice, or at least should have been if people were watching. Pearce didn’t mention the error, probably too busy thinking up another piss-take to hit Smith with. Carmona’s second effort was admittedly wildly off-target, Pearce suggesting that Big Suze’s form in the tournament meant the goalkeeper wouldn’t be beaten from distance anyway, which Smith agreed with. Both would later reveal to have been merked. 

It was the keeper at the other end, Cata ‘The Cat’ Coll Lluch, and indeed Carmona who produced my first conscious viewing of play-acting in the Women’s World Cup. Maybe Coll Lluch did genuinely need to keep needing treatment, but Carmona so obviously bought a foul off Lustig by the corner flag in the final few seconds. The Swedes were rattled about it and rightly so, and though the nationality of the deception isn’t a surprise given that’s where Rodri learned it, I hope this isn’t the start of a widespread philosophy shift in the women’s game. Like Carmona’s deflected shot in the first half, VAR was neither called upon or bothered. Perhaps you could argue she was just even-ing it up. 

*Italy’s men’s team were also unable to get past a semi-final in a World Cup they hosted (1990)*

No comments:

Post a Comment

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...