Tour de France: Impressions of the 2019 Women's World Cup

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 referees. 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 Yamashita Yoshimi 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 everybody's MVP.
8 comments about "Tour de France: Impressions of the 2019 Women's World Cup".
  1. Joseph Pratt, July 5, 2019 at 12:05 p.m.

    Good stuff. For me another factor is the actual soccer. Most of what I’ve watched has been really good quality. Technically the women are excellent, as well as tactically. In fact, I now give an edge to the women in watchability. Why? No diving. No rolling around (I see you, Neymar) as if they’ve been shot when there is contact. The men are total babies in comparison, it’s become an embarrassment.  No ganging up to argue with the referee (I still don’t understand why refs put up with that crap, “dissent” is cautionable), thus delaying the game nearly as badly as VAR (and VAR done right, unlike at this WC, should not delay much). All in all a very entertaining tournament. Hopefully the final will be so!

  2. R2 Dad, July 5, 2019 at 12:59 p.m.

    Good write-up, Ian. Do we get a Food report, too? I'd imagine there were some pretty tasty vittles along the way. My family travels on our stomachs and the grub is an important factor in the overall trip satisfaction. Especially if you're eating/drinking with various supporters, stadium time is only part of the experience. Anything memorable for you there?

  3. Teri Pinney, July 5, 2019 at 5:29 p.m.

    The quality of soccer from most of the teams has been fantastic! The play in the knockout rounds has been exceptional. For the US, would the US Men’s Team fancy a “friendly” match against the US Women’s team? I honestly don’t know who would win. :-)

  4. Ridge Mahoney replied, July 5, 2019 at 5:43 p.m.

    Then you dont know much about soccer. 

  5. R2 Dad replied, July 5, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.

    Harsh, and snarky, Ridge. I thought that was our job!

  6. Kevin Flynn replied, July 6, 2019 at 11:40 a.m.

    Statements like that show the true ignorance to the realities of the worlds game. For all the rightful complaints the US Women have, they are the most well funded and supported women’s team in the world. There is also not nearly the parity or competition that the men’s game has either. This tournament has hopefully awoken the sleeping giant that is the women’s game. 

  7. Peter Bechtold replied, July 6, 2019 at 1:57 p.m.

    The USWNT already played a closed door scrimmage in 2017 I believe during one of their camps in Texas against FC Dallas 15 year- old boys. the score was reported 5-2 Dallas.

  8. Thomas Frambach, July 6, 2019 at 4:46 a.m.

    Nice article.  We have enjoyed my time in Paris, Lyon and a beautiful small town called Annecy.  It is a wonderful country...  However the transportation in and out of Lyon was terrible.  The trams only ran until 12am after the US semi-final and people were stuck, with no uber or taxis able to accommodate the masses.  It was very poor.    

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