Those pesky quarter-finals do their worst yet again. By the time Hope Powell’s Team GB got any cohesion into their game against Canada, they were already a (terrific) goal down and the initiative had flown across the Atlantic, never to return.It was a sad, slightly flat way for Team GB’s otherwise impressive campaign to end, tempered by the fact that the Canadians ended it with an excellent display. As the BBC’s Guy Mowbray noted in commentary, both teams improved as the competition progressed. Unfortunately for the hosts, the Canadians improved that bit more.
All four women’s quarter-finals were entertaining in their own way. France took ages to get going against the ultra-careful Sweden but produced a watchable second-half (spurred on by the commentary of a near-smitten Alastair Mann), even if Louisa Necib failed by some margin to live up to her ‘Zinedine Zidane’ label.The United States/Team USA/USNWT were clearly made to work harder than they wanted to in overcoming New Zealand, the pluckiest of plucky teams. If the Football Ferns hadn’t been as bad as their nickname in the opposition penalty box, the States might have had to snap out of the complacent torpor which has crept up on them in their last two games. And Abby Wambach got booked, not before time.
And Japan’s win over Brazil was dotted with sumptuous football from both sides. The Selecao overwhelmed the World Champions in the opening 25 minutes, making Japanese keeper Miho Fukumoto work with long-range shooting and viciously in-swinging corners without creating a clear-cut chance. Then someone flicked a switch in Japanese heads and within ten minutes, they had created three clear-cut chances, scored one, and won the game – psychologically at least.Hampden Park hasn’t had a busy Olympics. The seats which constituted the flag of St. Andrew were never filled to camouflage the flag. And this sedate atmosphere matched Sweden’s performance. Even with the extra determination of the intimidating-looking Nilla Fischer, and her ability to score with her shoulder, they lacked sufficient determination to combat France’s skill and aerial power in both boxes.
Although the second half was a slightly better spectacle, all three goals arrived in the first. They were all set-pieces and were all scrappier than the general play which had surrounded them. Including Fischer’s shoulder, which put Sweden ahead, a variety of upper body parts contributed to the goals.Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl created France’s equaliser with the palm of her hand with which she placed a French corner onto Laura Georges’ head at the far post. In the ensuing scramble the ball, Lindahl and two of her defensive colleagues found themselves in an undignified heap in the net. And what turned out to be the winner came from a Georges knock-down which left her head at a curious angle before hitting what looked like Marie-Laure Delie’s nose and making its way to Wendie Renard, who walloped the ball home via the sole of the luckless Lindahl’s boot.
Sweden were, as Mann accurately put it, “a little more measured than you would expect from a side actually trailing.” But striker Lotta Schelin might have wanted some of the service to her to be a little more measured as she spent most of the second period chasing lost causes.The best second-half chances for both sides came with eighteen minutes remaining and within sixty seconds of each other, Necib heading an Elodie Thomis’s cross wide from eight yards before Fischer’s volley at the other end brought a stupendous save from French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi – all accompanied by the ludicrous sight and sound of a particularly moronic Mexican wave. Second-half chances had been at a premium, yet the game was genuinely fascinating, as opposed to euphemistically so (see also “absorbing struggle” and “intriguing tactical battle”). The cheering of the wave was completely out of kilter with the drama on the pitch. And whoever thought such a wave would look anything but farcical in such sparsely-occupied stands needs a quiet word from a psychologist.
France are Olympic debutants, in contrast to the ever-present but still medal-less Swedes, which makes their displays all the more noteworthy. Only the States have made them look remotely second-best so far. And they will be formidable semi-finalists.The States remain the formidable outfit, however. And Olympic gold remains theirs to lose. Abby Wambach continues to garner the attention with her goalscoring exploits and general nuisance value. But strike partner Alex Morgan has probably been the better player of the two. And the USNWT defence has impressed most of all. Since going two-down to France in a remarkable first 14 minutes of their tournament, they have given up few chances worthy of the name, which has meant there has been less focus on keeper Hope Solo than…well…certainly Hope Solo would like. New Zealand never got near her, only threatening the goal from large distances, with Kirsty Yallop and Katie Hoyle trying shots from different postcodes. Meanwhile Wambach scored from three yards (and from half-a-yard offside) and her and Morgan missed from similarly close range. The States rather waited for the second goal to come. And their slightly lazy attitude was most evident in a couple of Wambach tackles which were no more than carefree/less swings of her left boot.
The first nearly took Ferns’ keeper Jenny Bindon’s head off and the second landed full-square on Yallop’s shin and landed Wambach in the book. “At last,” it says in my notes.New Zealand gave it their all and were inevitably undone by the extra pace of flamboyant and flamboyantly-named substitute Sydney Le Roux. And they are just an Abby Wambach or an Alex Morgan short of being genuine medal shots. The quarter-finals seemed a round too early for teams of Japan’s and Brazil’s quality and reputation. And their quarter-final match largely proved that, with Japan’s quality proving more vital than Brazil’s reputation.
Without Cristiane and Marta, this Brazil side have actually looked a bit ordinary. And they were effectively without both of them for long periods against Britain on Tuesday AND Japan yesterday. Cristiane seemed in a permanent huff and by the closing stages of the game Marta was picking up possession in the left-back area. The world’s number one footballer in the women’s game had a tournament to match the team’s, which probably shows that she is both hugely influential and too influential. Midfield powerhouse Formiga and, to a lesser extent, left-wingback Rosana threatened to haul their team back into contention. But the match remained a case of “stop Marta and you stop Brazil.” That doesn’t happen to the truly great sides.
When Japan got on top their passing and movement was a joy to behold, and there won’t be much route one football in Monday’s semi-final against the French. Quick thinking from a free-kick sent Yuki Ogimi clear to give them the lead as the striker took centre-stage in Japan’s comeback from their slow start.And there was a childish delight to be had in listening to match commentator Steve Wilson cry “Oh no!” three times as Shinobu Ohno finished off a stunning breakaway – and Brazil’s chances – with a left-foot strike over poorly-positioned Brazilian keeper Andreia. Wilson provided more commentary box joy in fifteen seconds than co-commentator Jo Potter managed in the whole tournament. Potter’s monotone, and having nothing of interest to say in that monotone, was not a winning combination.
Alas for Team GB, Melissa Tancredi, Jonelle Filigno and Christine Sinclair was a winning combination. Filigno’s goal was a training ground dream, half-volleying Sophie Schmidt’s corner into the ball-and-a-half width gap in the top right-hand corner of Karen Bardsley’s net. And when Sinclair’s free-kick found the somewhat larger gap in the GB defensive wall, the North American derby with the United States was all-but set up.Britain started off well enough for a 7.45 kick-off. Unfortunately, the game kicked off at 7.30. And while the BBC’s Jacqui Oatley cited England’s comeback against Russia in Euro 2009 during her excellent half-time analysis, she did note that England were 3-2 up by half-time in that match. They never really looked like scoring in last night’s second half either.There were a couple of ‘if onlys’ for pundits to try and hang their hats on – Karen Carney’s 23rd-minute header wide from Alex Scott’s superb cross when it was still only 1-0 and Eniola Aluko’s clear upending in the penalty area by Rhian Wilkinson with nine minutes left. But the pundits had the good grace not to try. And I’m not sure what hat Sue Smith could wear anyway with a hairstyle like…THAT.
Canada will have to replicate their fine display last night if the US are to fail to reach the Olympic final for the first time – won’t it make Britain look good if they manage it? And a 2011 World Cup final repeat looks on the cards, with the States on a revenge mission for their defeat that night.The tournament has been well worth watching so far. The rest should be too.
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