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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 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 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!