The quality of play and level of competition of this World Cup gives their male counterparts a run for their money.
After two nervy games between the US-France and Japan-Sweden, I found myself reflecting on my personal opinions about women’s soccer. Admittedly, I have not always been the greatest fan or promoter of the women’s game, cheekily referring to it as “underwater soccer;” a nod to its slower play in comparison to the men’s game. This unfair opinion has all changed in light of the current tournament in Germany.
If the US-Brazil game was not enough to change my mind, the two semifinal matches marked the completion of my conversion. In the US-France game, we saw two contrasting styles go head to head. The US, known for their organization, clinical finishing, and undying will to win, showed their vulnerability against the skill, creativity, and movement of les femmes de France. Although the US struck first with a 9th minute poke from Lauren Cheney, it was the French who controlled the majority of the game due in large part to the female Zidane, Louisa Necib. Necib, who’s skill and creativity is only outmatched by her European/Algerian sex appeal, pulled the strings for the French attack that made the US defenders trip over themselves more than my roommate doing the Dougie. Moreover, she showed the world that the women’s game is more than simple tactics and running; that it can also be about flair and on-the-ball skill. Necib’s creativity that she displayed throughout the tournament is comparable to her male counterparts, and has gone a long way in undermining my previous-held beliefs about the feminine game.
In addition to Necib, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Abby Wambach had performances in this game that are definitely worthy of the underwater labeling. Rapinoe, who came on as a sub in the 65th, was rampant down the left wing and displayed vision, creative dribbling, and quick passing that was of the highest caliber. The US would simply not have made it this far in the tournament without the Ludmilla Vobet Drago lookalike. Alex Morgan, aside from being one of the main love interests of every warm-blooded, straight male (or at least my brother), had a clinical finish to give the US its third goal, and seal its spot in the final in Frankfurt. After getting behind the French defense, Morgan took a touch towards the left side of the box and then expertly clipped the goalkeeper to put the ball in the back of the net. Morgan’s finish was reminiscent of another forward in the male game that scores about 30% of his goals with a similar technique. Thirdly, Wambach showed us why she’s the most dangerous female striker in the world with her powerful header for the US’ second goal. Wambach’s header was a display of skill that was equal to the ability of any male player in the world and probably would have made Tim Cahill‘s pants a little tighter.
The second game, between the Japanese and the Swedish, was similar to the first in its stark contrast of styles: the Swedes are powerful and direct while the Japanese are quick and skilled. Also, the second game was similar in that it was packed with incredible displays of individual skill that undermined my views even further. To start, the shirtaphobic Josefine Oqvist put the Swedes ahead with a powerful left footed strike just inside the box, that any soccer fan could admire (as a result of such goal, Oqvist has been hired by the San Jose Earthquakes to teach this man how to put the ball in the net). Then, after the classy, Barcelona-esque Japanese answered with two goals of their own, Nahomi Kawasumi punched their ticket to the final with a nominee for goal of the tournament. In the 64th, the Swedish keeper left her box in an attempt to clear the ball. It was a poor clearance that fell to Kawasumi who then popped it up and volleyed from close to 40 yards out and hit the back of the net on the fly. The difficulty of that technique is something that cannot be overstated, and demonstrates just how skilled these World Cup players are. Furthermore, the overall pass and move play of the Japanese was a clinic on how the game is supposed to be played, and is a further testament to the fact that the women’s game is nothing to be mocked at. All of these women mentioned would clown me, and probably you, in any pick up game around the world.
Hopefully this piece and this tournament has given you a new perspective on the skill level of the women in this tournament, and you will appreciate the final on Sunday that much more. If not, at least tune in for the incredible story both of these teams provide. The USWNT is trying to retake their place on the women’s soccer throne and finally step out of the shadows of the 99′ team (let’s all pray the US wins just so the washed up 99ers, Chastain, Foudy, Scurry, etc., will no longer feel the need to refer all of their analysis back to themselves; has anyone else ever been so tired of hearing about the US winning a championship?) On the other side will be the Japanese women, who have been the epitome of class and grace in going out to compete at the highest level after such a tragic occurrence. Several of the Japanese players have lost their homes, and I’m sure all of them have closed ones who have lost their homes. Whoever wins (although I still want the US), will be a worthy recipient of such a high honor, and will be lauded for the on-field efforts as much as their off-field elegance.