After an even, open, absorbing but never quite thrilling 1-0 win for Germany, Ellis may still be undecided about which of these two teams she would rather take on in the round of 16. As things stand, it will likely be Spain, which can count itself unlucky not to have taken at least a point from the game. The major Spanish failing, though, was an inability to take its very clear chances, which may jive well with the generally received wisdom that the weakest point in the U.S. team is its defense.
Spanish coach Jorge Vilda said before the game that “Germany can swap its players around. But it will continue to play the same soccer.” He was referring to the broken toe of the team’s star and playmaker, Dszenifer Marozsan. His forecast was prophetic. Germany again -- just like they did against China -- took the three points on a single goal after surviving two major defensive scares when they were caught on the break. Both times striker Nahikari Garcia was unable to finish one-on-one situations -- the first time through hesitation, the second time by placing her shot wide of Almuth Schult, who stood her ground well.
Spain then somehow found themselves going into the break a goal behind. In its first two games, Germany has looked most dangerous down the flanks, with Svenja Huth and Giulia Gwinn combining time and again. Just before halftime, it was Lena Goessling’s pass that released the nimble Huth, whose cross was headed on goal by Alexandra Popp. Sandra Panos made a reflex stop, but neither she not her captain Marta Torrejon seemed sure whose job it was to clear the rebound. Sara Daebritz stepped in and gratefully poked the ball home.
“We were lucky not to fall behind,” Huth admitted after the game, “but thanks to our fighting performance I think we deserved the three points.” The Spanish team was “very, very strong,” but Germany “fought its way into the game and had more possession”. Germany once more seemed more assured and solid in the second half, and rarely looked like conceding once they’d taken the lead.
German coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg attributed the early slips to “nerves,” but added that “the second half was a tremendous effort - we were more dynamic and more present in the game.” For the reference of future opponents, however, her defense remains vulnerable to swift counter-attacks, and is prone to wasting possession by playing aimless, long balls out of the back.
Did they miss Marozsan? Hardly, given the similarity of their performance to the China game. Voss-Tecklenburg had said beforehand that Germany would have to try and compensate for Marozsan’s absence “throughout the team. You can’t replace her, because she possesses qualities that are unique to her.” After their shaky start, the German players collectively did enough. Lena Oberdorf was again strong in the defensive midfield position, while Goessling and Gwinn shared creative duties. The introduction of the lively, if raw, Karla Buehl to the attack after half-time showed they have plenty of options.
Yet in the first half the Spanish were by far the more pleasing side to watch, thanks to the artistry of Jennifer Hermoso and Virginia Torrecilla. As well as Garcia’s two missed chances, Silvia Meseguer shot sharply wide from the edge of the penalty area following a move down the left. For the rest of the game, though, their efforts on goal lacked power and direction. A move in the 72nd minute typified the Spaniards’ evening – a nice sequence of passes ended in anti-climax when Marta Corredera shot tamely wide.
Hermoso’s tremendous footwork is worth its own highlights video, while Torrecilla conquers the ball before playing passes that are sometimes a touch too visionary for her team-mates. It could be that Spain is still finding its way in to this tournament. “The best version of Spain remains to be seen,” Vilda claimed this week, after his team were criticized in the wake of its opening 3-1 win over South Africa. If there really is a better version of the team that dominated the first half hour tonight, then a USA-Spain game in Rennes on June 24 could be the game of the round.
Photo: A2M Sport/DPPI/Icon Sportswire
Spain is pleasing to watch, but lacks finishing power and won’t worry Jill Ellis too much this tournament. Until Spain finds their own Sam Kerr, so they can turn all their possession into goals. But they’re doing well, considering women’s football really just started a few years ago. Real Madrid doesn’t even have a women’s team yet, so their clubs are still figuring it all out. If the USWNT remains technically underdeveloped—which is to say if USSF doesn’t know how to evolve—Spain will be beating us in 8 years.