Tag Archives: Women’s soccer

The Sweeper: When an England Loss is a Win

Karen Carney

Big Story
It’s not often a 6-2 loss is taken to presage a “nation’s arrival on the big stage”, but that’s the reaction today in the Guardian from Anna Kessel on the England’s women’s team’s defeat in the UEFA European Championship final to Germany last night. The Germans, winning their seventh European title, were faster and stronger than the English underdogs, who were in their first final for a quarter-century.

But their run to the final and the pluck of their first half performance certainly demonstrated the improved quality of the team. At 3-2 early in the second half — England clawing their way back into it thanks to an exquisite feed from Karen Carney to Kelly Smith — the Germans were rattled, before their superior force saw them overrun England towards the end.

The women’s game in England has been growing fast at the grassroots, with participation booming over the past two decades, leading to this improved performance along with England’s under-19 team winning the European Championship in July. But development at the professional level has not kept pace so far, with the introduction of central contracts too late and too little to keep many English stars from moving to WPS in the U.S. along with the disrespectfully made announcement earlier this year that the proposed new F.A. summer women’s Super League would be delayed from its intended 2010 launch.

Amidst the excitement over England’s run this week, F.A. chief executive Ian Watmore got all the soundbites right as he promised the Super League really, really would launch in 20111. But once the media glare once again drifts away from the women’s game, will the F.A. finally fulfill their duties? Let’s hope the momentum from the past week does force them to do so.

Worldwide News

  • Meanwhile, today is National Fabio Capello Day in England. The Telegraph’s Henry Winter remembers Capello’s own “thirty years of hurt” with the World Cup; the Times looks at the fortune England’s success so far has already earned the Italian; and the Daily Mail considers how Capello solved the conundrum of playing Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney together (“I spoke with them and I said you are a fantastic player, you are a fantastic player and you are another fantastic player.”)
  • The Football Association is cashing in on success, with a new major sponsor — Mars — set to be unveiled soon. But ESPN are playing hardball over available FA Cup rights vacated by Setanta.
  • Arsene Wenger makes an important if extremely self-serving point about the proposed ban on the transfer of players under the age of 18, arguing that reducing the ability for (oh, say) Arsenal to capture all the best talent would stifle their talent and perhaps more worryingly, lead to their sale to businessmen and agents.
  • Jeff Cooper of St. Louis Soccer United speaks about his plans for men’s professional football in the city, a goal he seems to keep coming agonisingly close to achieving. Cooper was one of the leaders of the proposed purchase of USL from Nike recently, and speaks about the prospective breakaway league, whilst also keeping his options open for his obvious first preference to buy into MLS by attempting to woo David Beckham.
  • Your Friday FIFA round-up of the upcoming weekend action not in Europe is available.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Olympic Women’s Football: Day One

What an interesting first day. Given my location & internet connection, I was only able to see Germany/Brazil (0-0) and China/Sweden (2-1). As much as I wish I could have watched North Korea and Nigeria (two really interesting teams for all sorts of reasons – skill, history, international football politics), and I wish I could have seen more than highlights (or, really lowlights) of the US/Norway match (0-2), I have a feeling I may have watched the best matches of the day!

Brazil-Germany

Brazil held Germany to nil — no small accomplishment. If I remember correctly, the only team to do that in the 2007 World Cup was England (on the absence of a UK squad, see this post). Eurosport France announcers called it “un beau match”, and it was. Lots of action, some great shots and you could feel the tension right from the outset – Germany’s Angerer is a fierce presence in goal, and Brazil seemed intent on letting her know they weren’t afraid of her, so she took a bit of a beating in this game (not with shots so much as with strong challenges for the ball).

I like the look of Brazilian midfielder Formiga — always have (“formiga”: that means ant, right? Her given name is Miraildes Maciel Mota). The lady is not afraid to hold onto the ball: she plays with a lot of confidence and has some nice – actually genius – moves. Everybody talks about Marta and Christiane, but I think Formiga is the glue & the gas. She holds things together and gets everything moving.

Anyway, some highlights include a fantastic flying fingertip save from Brazilian keeper Andreia (Did I imagine that? Because I haven’t seen it mentioned in coverage so far). I was watching in a local sports bar, and they kept turning off the sound – and looked not so amused that I was there. In any case, I’m not sure whose shot that was (Smisek?). This was followed by a speedy counterattack & gorgeous cross from Marta right across the goal mouth to Christiane who sent it over the net with a header as she raced into the space.

Toward the end of the first half I found myself thinking Brazil looked more nervous – sending balls too far up the field, kick and run, except not really. They gave away a fair amount of balls that way, and you rarely saw Germany making those kinds of mistakes.

That said, Marta looked great – her speed is amazing, and it takes as many as three people to contain her. And Christiane is an Amazonian warrior. Over all, as clichéd as it is to say this, Brazil was nicer to watch on the ball. Turning, twisting, playful sole-rolls and crazy little flips – plus, they play chancier football. Lots of speed, quick and surprising movements, and an ability to just pluck the ball from the air – they have a lightness of touch that feels risky from the stands if only because it looks like there are moments when no single player HAS the ball – the ball is moving so fast between them.

Germany are confident – they look almost unflappable. They made very few (no?) obvious errors – few careless or pointless passes. You can feel how well they know each other. Plus, they are sneaky. Don’t let the Germanic-machine-myth let you think that this team is predictable. Prinz in particular is so quick with a shot – she shoots through an open space with a lightening reflex, and she’s hard to read: she looks very, very hard to defend. One pistol shot from the top of the box went just wide before you knew it’d even left her foot.

Brazil looked fantastic (up to a point) in the second half – it felt like the game was mostly played in Germany’s territory. Christiane had a spectacular shot on goal which deflected off of Angerer (very unusual). Defender Costa followed up with a shot that hit the top right corner of the post and bounced just outside the goal area. Nevertheless, they struggled to convert – as usual, no lucky breaks. But, we make our own luck in this game, no? I kept thinking if Germany had these chances, they’d be up by six. But, amazingly, they hardly seemed to get inside the goal’s postal code.

Overall, neither team let the other get all that close to the goal. Brazil had more shots on target, but Angerer really never seemed stretched. The last few minutes were pretty boring as both teams seemed content to let the draw stand. It is not right that they are in the same group.

China-Sweden

China looked fantastic, and not just because the Chinese WNT has the best haircuts. Check out defender Li Jie (on the left) – shortlisted for FIFA footballer of the year in 2007 – or forward Han Duan (on the right) – also highly ranked in the same year by FIFA. These mug shots from the official Olympics team site don’t do them justice. The whole team looked amazing in every single way, and more than half were sporting what I think is called a shag. We see this in England a fair amount – a very punky, scrappy and cool look for the woman athlete who likes her hair and wants to resist the whole pony-tailed “I am not a lesbian” thing.

Based on today’s performance, it would make a lot of sense to see the Chinese team in at least a semi-final match. They more or less ran circles around Sweden – they looked more fit, confident, and like they wanted the win more. And, no doubt, they do.

U.S. – Norway

And, lastly, a word about the US defeat today. Why is it that when the US women lose, they look just plain awful? Great teams lose great games all the time. But the USWNT – which rarely loses ever – seems to only lose once in a blue moon in spectacularly bad games – by giving up own goals, making fatal passes, looking like they just woke up. They didn’t lose today because Norway played brilliantly. They lost because they made two really nasty errors within 90 seconds of each other. Bad communication, a weak and amateurish pass. Not to sell the historic rivals short, but Norway would have been incompetent had they not capitalized on them. They certainly deserve the credit for coming onto the field ready to play!

Arsenal Ladies Do the Double

It might be another trophyless season for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, but Arsenal Ladies collected their second of the season earlier today in the Women’s F.A. Cup Final in front of 24,582 fans.

Women’s Cup Final

Amazingly, as the Guardian reports, doing the double is almost a disappointment for the Gunners; last year, Arsenal won the quadruple, the heart of their run of 51 straight wins that was finally ended with a draw earlier this season.

Let that sink in for a second: 51 straight wins. In a game where one bad bounce can cost you, that is undoubtedly a phenomenal achievement. It’s also not necessarily good for women’s football in England. Too many games are over before they begin, and nobody wants to know who the champion will be before the season even starts.

The structural problems in the English game are pretty clear. Despite impressive numbers for participation at the grassroots — over a million women and girls played the game last year — too many teams have for too long been at the mercy of their parent clubs. Arsenal’s dominance comes from the strong support they’ve received from the club, but that’s all too rare.

Leeds United L.F.C., Arsenal’s opponents today, have survived against the odds after being abandoned when Leeds United chairman Ken Bates cut their funding and use of training facilities. Leeds managed to buck the trend of this leading to disaster by acquiring sponsorship from Empire Direct and later Leeds Metropolitan University. For many women’s teams tied to men’s teams, though, relegation for the latter often means extinction for the former. This happened to Charlton Athletic’s women’s team just last year: success on the field for the females was not enough when the club decided to cut costs when the men were relegated.

The final thus contrasted two models: Arsenal Ladies success shows how much value can be gained from close cooperation with the men’s team. Yet league-wide, the trend should surely be towards Leeds’ now-independent model, so that women’s teams can develop on their own feet and not be dependent on the results of the men’s club for survival.

Women’s Professional Soccer
The launch of the new Women’s Professional Soccer league in the United States in 2009 might deal a further blow, at least in the short term, to women’s football in England. It is not hard to imagine that some of the best and most ambitious female players and coaches might jump ship to a fully professional team across the Atlantic.

Unlike the previous professional league, the WUSA, WPS looks to have a sensible modest business model that should mean it can survive without attracting huge crowds. I’ve been following closely the early stages of the formation of the Chicago WPS club (and so can you, if you read the blog by its president, Peter Wilt), and it looks like it will be a very impressive set-up (and Peter: please sign Kelly Smith!).

Like most other American professional sports leagues, WPS will surely encourage parity that would make 51 consecutive wins unlikely; WPS should be able to attract fans who want to see competitive soccer week in, week out. Teams will be independent entities, but some will also partner with MLS clubs to share facilities and resources (Chicago’s WPS team will play at the Fire’s Toyota Park, for example).

As well as competition, then, perhaps WPS in America can also set something of an example for how a women’s league could flourish. For as much as Arsenal set an inspiring example with their set-up and performance, no league can thrive when one team is indomitable and women’s teams are tied to the fluctuating fortunes of men’s teams.

The Guardian article also reports the FA are currently reviewing the future of the women’s game. Given the historical debt the F.A. owes the women’s game, let’s hope it really comes up with a solid plan and funding to develop a more competitive league.

Marta and the Beautiful Game

Our open thread on the Women’s World Cup has certainly thrown up highly contrasting opinions, and this blog welcomes honest takes from all quarters. But perhaps the most interesting perspective on it I’ve seen so far comes from the Global Game blog, which features an interview with the biographer of Brazilian star Marta.

It’s very hard to accept any kind of patronising view towards the World Cup when we hear Marta’s story. That doesn’t mean one has to enjoy it or even watch it necessarily, but if one loves football, it’s impossible not to respect the passion and pride for the game shown by the players who just want to do what we all dreamt of once: represent their country at the highest level they can playing the intoxicating game we all can’t get enough of (a passion notably absent amongst certain male superstars in recent years when they’ve pulled on their country’s shirt).

Marta and her teammates have been advocating for a Brazilian league, but they are battling institutional inertia and a history that banned soccer for women until 1979. The federal government beginning in the 1980s limited sponsorship opportunities for women and prevented their competitions from being held at athletic grounds, consigning them to, in many cases, the beaches in Rio.

Copacabana Beach, in fact, in 1981 served as the venue for the first women’s tournament. The strongest women’s side through much of the 1980s, Esporte Clube Radar, used the beach as its home ground. Opposition to women playing football has been constant. The challenges range from the physical—Marta reports that her brother hit her when he found she was playing, and BBC columnist Tim Vickery’s girlfriend says she got similar lashings from her father (BBC Sport, Sept 10)—to the subtly patronizing gender stereotypes that frame women, in the main, as an object of the male gaze or as devoted disciples of home and church.

“Today, when I came into the field, I heard a guy say that I should be at a laundry sink, washing clothes,” said a Radar player in 1984. “But I did not bother to reply to him, although I was angry. My reaction came later, with the ball at my feet.”

And of course, it does come down to what happens when the ball is at a person’s feet. And boy, Marta has some feet, as this video demonstrates as she put five past Canada earlier this year (alright, the defending’s atrocious):