Ian Plenderleith spent the
month of June traveling around France for Soccer America. Here are some of his subjective impressions of the 2019 Women's World Cup from seeing 12 games in six different stadiums. 1. The stadiums.
The tournament has been a success at getting supporters on to seats. Although the allocation of games did not always make sense
-- England, for example, played its first group game on the south coast in Nice, its second in Le Havre on the north coast, and then returned all the way to Nice for its final game against Japan --
the choice of medium-sized, second-tier stadiums in cities such as Reims, Valenciennes and Grenoble certainly did. For most games, the stadiums have been well-occupied to full, and plenty of local
fans showed up for games featuring teams with few traveling fans. 2. The atmosphere and the fans.
This depended heavily on who
was playing, needless to say. German fans made little coordinated effort to get behind their team, for example. The U.S. fans were lively, especially at the Parc des Princes against Chile, though
somewhat repetitive (is there no chant beyond 'USA! USA!'?). The Dutch fans were magnificent in terms of both numbers and noise, adding color and a variety of songs often missing at international
games. Spanish and Italian fans, very much like their teams, are rapidly establishing a presence, while Brazil's support should take an award for distance traveled (though I didn't get to see
Australia or New Zealand). Thai fans celebrating their team after a 13-0 defeat was one of the moments of the tournament. Yet nothing quite compares with being in a stadium where the entire French
support is singing "Allez les Bleues!" The concerted, unified volume combined with the poetic repetition of the letter "l'"makes your body tingle, and prompts you to really want to join in. 3. The games.
It's always fascinating to watch a tournament unfold and to guess which team is going to have the stamina, savvy, skill and
-- perhaps most important of all -- the necessary slice of luck to stay the course for the full four weeks. From that point of view, it's been a fine tournament full of the requisite narratives, but
has lacked some of the quality that the Women's World Cup had back when it was a 16-team competition. The 2011 edition served up several superb games, whereas in 2019 it's been more about holding on
in the heat than dominating with brilliance. Argentina's comeback from 3-0 down against Scotland was a madcap humdinger (consequence: both teams eliminated), while the French games perhaps seemed
better than they actually were thanks to the terrific atmosphere. So, while multiple games have been absorbing and have satisfied the tactically studious, there's been an absence of absolutely
outstanding teams, games (with the exception of USA-England) and -- over the course of the tournament -- individual players, too. 4. The
On the field, there was too much lenience towards foul play. The prime example was Marie-Soleil Beaudoin
's hands-off treatment of China's brutal approach in its opening
match against Germany, resulting in a broken toe to one of the world's best players, Dszenifer Maroszan
(who was then out of the tournament until a second-half appearance against Sweden in the
quarterfinal). An early yellow card would have set the tone in a number of matches. On the other hand, we saw referees wasting time by insisting on throw-ins being taken at exactly the right spot (who
cares?), and a whole minute being lost every time they set up a wall at a free-kick. While preemptive lectures at dead-ball situations are not necessarily a bad thing, they needn't turn into
theatrical soliloquies. The delayed AR flags on calls -- that even a novice can see are clearly offside -- are another time-eating, game-meddling annoyance.
Off the field, everyone now
has an opinion about the Video Assistant Referee, and few are ready to offer more than a qualified defense. Too often they defied FIFA's own mandate of "minimum interference, maximum benefit."
Penalizing micro-infringements measured by a computer, such as on offside decisions and goalkeepers moving off their lines at penalty kicks, hugely delays play, enacts dubious justice, contravenes the
spirit of soccer as a game, and is increasingly despised by those who've made the effort to watch in the stadium. At Germany-Nigeria in Grenoble, fans began to boo in unison whenever referee
put her finger to her earpiece. VAR is not a bad concept, but its implementation at this World Cup has been borderline catastrophic.
5. The profile of the women's game.
The legacy of this tournament may go well hand-in-hand with a general raising of awareness on issues of equality.
In the aftermath of the #metoo movement and the battle for better pay instigated by the U.S. women's team, France 2019 has highlighted more than ever how poorly most women's teams are treated compared
with their male counterparts, and how much women's soccer everywhere is lacking in the support and resources allocated to the men's game. There is no excuse any more for FIFA and national federations
to keep on ignoring this truth, and it's now one of their principal tasks to go about opening opportunities for the women's game around the world, from the grassroots upwards. TV viewing figures
suggest this World Cup has ignited enthusiasm for women's soccer on a previously unseen global scale, so it's time to seize the moment and follow through. 6. Soccer and politics.
There's a point of view that says the two shouldn't mix (try telling that to anyone who's spent even five minutes studying the history of
FIFA and the Olympic movement). There's another point of view that sees politicians piggy-backing on the success of a team and exploiting sport whenever convenient for a photo-opportunity. It's
therefore entirely legitimate for a high-profile sporting figure to express her political opinions in the hope of influencing a new generation to continue fighting for equality, respect and fairness
in sport and in everyday life. To keep on doing this with a smile on your face -- both on and off the field -- should make Megan Rapinoe