Commentary

'Wow' moments are in short supply so far at Women's World Cup

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

I am holding out hope for the 2015 Women's World Cup, but so far, I must admit, I have been disappointed.

The last two major women's tournaments -- 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany and 2012 London Olympics -- set a high standard, but I am waiting for this year's tournament to produce some of the same drama and excitement -- and great soccer -- we've come to expect from the Women's World Cup.

As I said, I still have hope. Most of the great games in 2011 and 2012 -- all five U.S. knockout games in fact over the two tournaments -- took place in the later stages of the tournaments.

So far in 2015, there's been one exceptional game -- Germany-France -- and a couple of good games. USA-Australia and Nigeria-Sweden, the Group D openers, and Germany-Sweden in the round of 16, come to mind. Colombia-France had the drama of a major upset. Canada-England on Saturday had the drama of the hosts fighting to survive but some comically (to a neutral observer) bad soccer.

Still, I was expecting more from this tournament. More federations are putting more resources behind the preparations of their national teams. More big clubs are putting money into women's soccer and providing better opportunities for top players to play the game at a high level.

But that has not translated on to the field in terms of the quality of play. Simply put, the ability of teams to organize game plans to shut down their opponents has developed faster than the creation of more good players. Indeed, the big clubs of Europe, in Germany, France, Sweden and now England, are signing, often at young ages, the world's top young players, but there are still not enough of them. Teams like Nigeria, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands all have exciting young players but too few to raise the level of their game at the Women's World Cup.

The gap between the top four teams -- the USA, Germany, Japan and France -- and everyone else exists because of the difference in the number of outstanding players they can field.

What made France so special wasn't simply the big names we all knew about coming into the tournament -- Louisa Necib, Eugenie Le Sommer, Wendie Renard -- but the remarkably high quality of the supporting cast -- players like holding midfielder Amandine Henry and the outside backs Jessica Houara, Laure Boulleau and Amel Majri.

For however underwhelming the USA has looked at times, it can -- and should -- attack more ways than just with long balls aimed at Abby Wambach because it has lots of players who can play. Japan's seven goals have come from seven different players. What separates the top four teams from the rest of the field is that they can attack in numbers and out of the back, like Germany with outside backs Leonie Maier and Tabea Kemme.

The four quarterfinal matches produced only seven goals, the best of which was Carli Lloyd's well-placed header off a great ball played in by Julie Johnston. The other six goals were the result of defensive mistakes (all three goals in the England-Canada game, including the Lucy Bronze header when Canada's marking instructions failed to get communicated to the field), a deflected shot (Louisa Necib for France), a penalty kick (Celia Sasic for Germany) and a blown offside call on an albeit bang-bang play (Mana Iwabuchi for Japan).

Of the four semifinalists, only Germany is averaging more than five shots on goal a game, and its average (11.8 per game) is inflated by the barrages it unleashed on Ivory Coast and Thailand in group play. A comparison to the men's side is always tricky, but the four semifinalists at the 2014 World Cup averaged 9.6 shots on target per game, basically twice as many.

Chances have been few and far between, and France paid dearly for failing to convert them. After his team was eliminated on penalty kicks, France coach Philippe Bergeroo admitted the game was lost before the shootout. (Necib in the first minute and Gaetane Thiney late in overtime failed to put open chances on frame.) The word Bergeroo kept coming back to: efficacité ("efficiency"). The Bleues, too, failed to even put an average of five shots on frame a game.

While it was easy to dismiss Wambach's comments early in the tournament blaming the artificial turf for her missed headers, there is no doubt the soccer at the Women's World Cup has suffered because of the turf and the heat it produced.

Bergeroo came in for a lot of criticism for his decision to take off right winger Elodie Thomis midway through the second half against Germany, but what was not known is she asked to come off because she kept cramping up. Would that have happened on grass? Perhaps but more likely not.

The Australians complained that playing on the artificial turf at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium was like playing on hot coals, and they wilted in the Saturday afternoon heat that forced many fans to seek shade under the stands. The Matildas had nothing left in the last 10 minutes after spending 80 minutes chasing Japan. Australia was probably the fifth best team in the tournament in terms of its results and the soccer it produced, but it was reduced to sending Sam Kerr on long and hopeless runs at the Japanese backline.

Whoever came up with the old soccer adage "Let the ball do the work" obviously didn't have artificial turf in mind. Japan produced it with its second goal against the Netherlands, but only France has shown it's got the players with the pace and skill and intelligence to consistently appear out of nowhere and combine in numbers, producing those "wow" moments that make soccer so special.

11 comments about "'Wow' moments are in short supply so far at Women's World Cup".
  1. John Mcdermott, June 29, 2015 at 6:57 p.m.

    It's been pretty hard to stay engaged watching many of these games. More, sometimes a lot more, mistakes than successful play and a generally slow pace don't make for entertaining soccer. Japan, France, Germany and, at times, Colombia, have been the most fun to watch. The rest, not so much.

  2. Lou vulovich, June 29, 2015 at 7:05 p.m.

    Great Point Paul. Those wow moments went out
    the door with way too much emphasis on great coaches and tactics. It is not only the woman's games which lack the wow moments, rarely do you see them in the men's games at any level.
    The game is controlled way too much from the sideline.
    There are not many WOW players period.
    Mostly physically great athlete's with little to
    0 creativity. At least the woman have an excuse
    no one ever saw a great game on Artificial Turf.
    As for their male counterpart ROBOTS what is their excuse.

  3. Larry Milnes, June 29, 2015 at 7:12 p.m.

    Wow. Great article. I for one just get a wow feeling seeing the prowess of these phenomenal female athletes. You know -- the ones that don't cheat, the one that got nailed studs up, moaned a little and walked it off into the next play, not rolling around on the ground in agony and crying to the ref.. Yeah, those moms enduring painful monthly cycles. Wow.
    It was a tragedy they were playing on that turf --- I can't imagine how that would feel on my feet for 90+ minutes.
    We've seen better play, and worse, but never will we see more deserving champions of their sport. Wow.

  4. Richard Tass, June 29, 2015 at 8:27 p.m.

    I agree with you that the games are slow and boring. I am also very unhappy about the skill level of the women's game. there is no tight marking. When most receive a pass with a little pace, the ball bounces around and there is very little really good trapping. when the ball bounces around, the defender seems to watch until the gal gets control and then the defender goes after the ball. Much of the passing is not accurate. a really good defensive team would be able to disrupt an offensive approach with tight marking. I live in California and the women game has been going on for a long time as I am sure it is everywhere. I did expect more

  5. Raymond Weigand, June 29, 2015 at 9:16 p.m.

    Wow ... I guess - depending on the perspective. I enjoy watching AUS / JPN / FRA / DEU / COL ... of course, I am not expecting perfection over 90 minutes. I like the USA when players check back to the ball or players overlap through the middle.
    I would not expect James Rodriguez, however, we have the technique and the fitness, we just need to be a little more patient. Tomorrow ... probably we are going to see some shots from outside fly like rockets and create all kinds of Wow!

  6. Santiago 1314, June 29, 2015 at 9:53 p.m.

    I think the WOW, you are going to hear tomorrow, is the Whack of Shinguards Splintering and Noses Breaking... Get Ready for a Real Slugfest...

  7. Santiago 1314, June 29, 2015 at 9:57 p.m.

    "Take up our quarrel with the foe:...To you from failing hands we throw The torch;...be yours to hold it high...If ye break faith with us who die,..We shall not sleep, though poppies grow, In Flanders fields."...

  8. Santiago 1314, June 29, 2015 at 10:02 p.m.

    Don't let us Down gals!!! ... Lots of years in the Trenches went Into getting you here... Few of this USA Generation have had to Struggle to find Fields, Equipment and even sometimes Food/Money or Housing...

  9. Santiago 1314, June 29, 2015 at 10:04 p.m.

    You play less Skilled and Tactical aware than any Team we have ever put on the Field, at this Level...But like Amy Rodriguez showed, We can Out Work ANYONE...

  10. Santiago 1314, June 29, 2015 at 10:08 p.m.

    We are fighting for an Ideal,... We ARE THE U.S.A!!!... AND WE BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN !... WE BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN.!!.. WE BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN.!!!

  11. Santiago 1314, June 29, 2015 at 10:10 p.m.

    JUST WIN BABY, WIN.!!! Just Do It !!! In those Ugly Yellow NIKE Socks

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