If a song called Friday on My Mind soon appears in the charts, the BBC’s extensive and impressive coverage of the Women’s World Cup in Canada will be largely to blame. When commentator Dave Woods said that Cote D’Ivoire were “supposed to be here to be the easybeats” of Group B, he may have also triggered a royalty claim from any surviving members of the 1960s Anglo-Scot-Australian beat combo of that name.
Sadly, the football hasn’t, yet, lived up to the coverage (British Eurosport have also devoted commendable time to events). The quality of some early games allowed sexist dullards to air their prejudices, which they could not have done during the last two World Cups and the magnificent 2012 Olympic tournament. However, it’s a bit rich for any football fan to complain of low-quality defending after the last Premier League season. If that entertained you, then your inability to warm to Cote D’Ivoire’s game with Thailand is nothing to do with football.
Cote D’Ivoire have garnered all the criticism for shipping ten goals to Germany. However, the most traumatised team in the opening week was Ecuador, who were so disoriented by the later stages of their six-nil loss to a powerful Cameroon that they tried three times to kick-off in the wrong direction after one of the goals. Little wonder they shipped ten goals against Switzerland in their next match. More detrimental to the tournament has been the stuttering form of the favourites, although they are all through, Brazil and Japan with 100% records and just one goal conceded between them.
Brazil’s games have been surprisingly passionless, personified by the muffled impact of star player Marta. Japan have registered three single-goal victories, including one which denied Ecuador an unwanted record as the team conceding the most goals ever in a finals’ group. Argentina in 2007 hold that…and Japan only beat them 2-1, so the reigning champions’ goalscoring reticence is nothing new.
My confident tip that the United States would romp home to a long, LONG overdue World title looked as shaky as “Germany v Portugal” for the Men’s Under-20’s final after their first 45 minutes against Australia. And the US’s inability to breach a Sweden defence regularly dismantled by Nigeria hinted at forthcoming struggles, despite goalkeeper Hope Solo often being as brilliant as she thinks she is. Germany similarly laboured against Norway after walloping Cote D’Ivoire, perhaps not helped by a wholly un-necessary kit swap with the Scandinavians. Germany’s white with black shorts and Norwegian red with white shorts wouldn’t be a colour clash on radio. Yet the Germans wore a wholly unfamiliar all-red while Norway sported what could have passed for German hand-me-downs.
It was difficult to judge France after their turgid opening one-nil victory against a frightened England. But no-one could have expected Colombia to beat them, even if the shock 2-0 win was triggered in part by an appalling refereeing decision (see below). Meanwhile Canada looked over-burdened by the pressure of being hosts. Among the other sides, the Aussies were particularly easy to warm to, not easy for an English-born cricket fan to write. Especially captain Lisa Da Vanna, whose lung-busting runs, both on the pitch and to the dugout after scoring have been accompanied by a fierce expression which opponents might interpret as: “if she wants the ball that badly, she can have it.”
The contrasting fortunes of Cote D’Ivoire and Cameroon were a puzzle. Cameroon only won the sides’ African qualifiers’ meeting, in the 2014 CAF Women’s Championship, 2-1 after extra-time. Yet Cote D’Ivoire defended little better than they had against Germany in losing their effective Group B third-place play-off match with Thailand 3-2. Anootsara Maijarem was yards offside before crossing for Thanatta Chawong to head home the winner. But Cote D’Ivoire’s keeper and three defenders all found distinctive ways to misjudge the cross, as if posing for a comprehensive “how not to defend” manual. And Ange N’Guessan missed a chance to equalise with the last (mis)kick, four yards from a gaping goal, after Thailand got their tactical and injury substitutions confused and had to play stoppage time with ten women. Mental match, though. And N’Guessan left better memories of their sojourn by pinging in a goal-of-the-tournament contender from 30 yards against Norway. Norway keeper Ingrid Hjelmseth was later substituted, but for unconnected reasons. Had she and her replacement Silje Vesterbekkmo been in goal together, they would not have stopped N’Guessan’s shot.
Cameroon, meanwhile, pinged in a half-of-the-tournament contender in coming from behind to beat Switzerland to second place in Group C, inspired by Gabrielle Onguene’s all-round genius. They overpowered the hapless Ecuador and nearly drew from two goals down against Japan. However, what BBC co-commentator Sue Smith insisted was the “Swiss front four” looked too good for the (cue inevitable nickname) Indomitable Lionesses. Switzerland should have been more than one-up at half-time. But Cameroon’s fans behind the goal into which Ana-Maria Cmogorcevic scored had the whole match played out at their end as Onguene equalised straight after half-time and created veteran striker Madeleine Ngono Mani’s winner. They were brilliant. And their last-16 meeting with Group A runners-up China promises much. Switzerland face Germany. Good luck with that. The battle to wear red might be tighter than the match.
China benefitted from a refereeing shocker, although their fans may suggest that the penalty award against New Zealand’s Betsy Hassett, when the ball hit her in the chest, was one of those “things evening themselves out over time,” a theory given scientific authenticity in football circles. That Hassett had both arms straight up in the air probably didn’t help her. China had lost 1-0 to Canada thanks to a 91st-minute penalty which might have smacked of “home decision” if it meant getting the finals off to the sort of start sponsors might request…oh…wait… However, Zhao Rong’s challenge was one of those that “would be a foul anywhere else on the pitch.” Forearm smashes to the jawbone generally are, despite BBC co-commentator Sue Smith’s insistence that “it was just defending” (training sessions at Doncaster Belles, Smith’s club, are clearly quite violent). The unfortunate New Zealanders lost their opening game to a wonder strike from the Netherlands’ Lieke Martens. And this, plus a draw with the still-stuttering Canadians, was enough to send tournament debutants the “Orange Lionesses” into the last 16
In Group D, African champions Nigeria were the second-biggest disappointment, failing to trouble the scorers after starring in the group stages’ best game, their 3-3 draw with Sweden. The Swedes themselves only qualified as one of the four best third-placed teams, which showed that if there really was a “Group of Death” at this tournament, then D (appropriately) was it. The officiating has been the biggest disappointment. As well as the above, there have been problems with time-keeping, Australia/Nigeria finished three minutes early, and one “look-back-and-laugh-but-not-for-a-bit” incident with substitutes’ boards.
Ecuador’s Katherine Ortiz was held on the touchline long after Monica Quinteros went off against Cameroon…and was then booked for coming on without the referee’s permission. This was apparently rescinded during the game which meant that when Ortiz handled seven minutes later to concede one of Cameroon’s three penalties, her on-pitch nightmare continued. Little wonder Ecuador kicked off backwards three times. There has also been a continuation of the long-established allergy to giving foul throws. Which made one of the biggest errors all the more unexpected. France’s Louisa Necib concluded a spat with team-mate Jessica Huara by flinging the ball at her to take a throw-in. In no conceivable way could it have been the actual throw-in that France had won. Yet it was called thus. And 39 seconds later, Colombia scored. Later, Colombia’s Daniel Montoya whacked the ball ten feet in the air with her hand inside the penalty area but nothing was given. That laughter you heard came from Ireland.
France nonetheless won Group F as predicted. England came second after 2-1 victories over Mexico and Colombia. Neither scoreline did justice to England as they were impressive and clearly a class above in each game before nerves took hold. Norway in the last 16 will tough to call, not least the issue of who will wear white. England were not, however, as all-encompassingly brilliant as the BBC’s Jonathan Pearce suggested with his appallingly obsequious commentaries, especially in the first half against Colombia, when he still sounded embarrassingly lovestruck after spending time in the England camp. Pearce’s wasn’t the only embarrassment of the England/Colombia coverage. But at least studio anchor Jacqui Oatley apologised, and turned her face from the cameras in shame, after signing off with “So England are through to the knock-out stages. There’s Nor-way they’ll want to go home.” No, really.
Group F provided the latest conceivable drama. Costa Rica, Spain and the Korean Republic all lost to Brazil and Brazil’s late winner against Costa Rica left second spot up for grabs until literally, and I mean literally, the last kick. Spain, 2-1 down to the Koreans, would qualify with a draw and had a free-kick on the edge of the box with the other game long finished. Sonia Bermudez struck the ball well, Korean keeper Kim Jung-Mi waved at it from a distance and it dipped beautifully…against the bar. The Korean debutants were in the last 16…with two points. Spain were in bits.
Full marks to the Beeb for their tournament coverage. Oatley’s undoubted enthusiasm manifested itself with an un-nerving wide-eyed stare, although to be fair, the tournament hours probably necessitate a lot of coffee, while Rachel Yankey’s one-expression-fits-all has provided a handy counterbalance. And the ten-minute daily “World Cup catch-up” programme seems to eschew some genuine match highlights on the tournament’s better days for over-jazzy graphics. However, these are minor quibbles with coverage which does the tournament justice. The former players know what they are talking about, making the fact that Robbie Savage’s broadcasting career is a “thing” all the more perplexing. Likewise Trevor Sinclair and, yes, even Danny Mills.
And the commentators, including Pearce for the most part to be fair, have undertaken an unfamiliar brief with professionalism, especially Kevin Keatings, infinitely more accustomed to lauding Messi, Ronaldo et al on SKY’s La Liga coverage. Still, full marks to Pearce’s co-commentator Smith for sitting through his extended, off-switch-inducing riff on John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Montreal and translating the “what the **** are you talking about, you addled old hippy?” in her head to a mere “showing your age” on-mic. Broadcasting awards have been won for less.
Overall, the group stages produced a mixed bag of football. But all the big names, players and teams alike, are in the round of 16, the first in this event. So it may yet deliver the quality that genuine football fans have learnt to expect from women’s major international tournament finals.
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