Well, the hurley-burley's done, the group stage is lost and won; tomorrow begins the task of reducing eight to four. What did we see in the group stage that might help us figure out who's going through, and who didn't, and why?Germany is not perfect! The French scored a couple of neat headers off corner kicks in their match against the Frauenschaft. I have no idea what Germany was thinking; marking space, whether you call it a "zone" or whatever you call it, is a sin in soccer. But the final result was still a win for the gals from the Bundesrepublik, who now get to knock my poor Nadeshino Japan on the head.
For my money the Germans still look the class of the tournament. They'll have to look pretty awful against Japan to change my mind on that. Just solid all the way through.The Swedes dug deep and found something. Having slagged off on them as old and tired, their 2-0 victory over the U.S. crowned a perfect run through the group stage for them, and, more to the point, they looked fairly comfortable slapping around the vaunted Americans. Their reward was to face the ridiculously lucky Matildas in the quarters. If the Sweden that showed up against the Yanks shows up against the feckless Aussies the lutefisk-gobblers should be a lock for the semis. But that's no certainty; the Sweden that looked so unconvincing against Colombia might just turn up, and then it's anyone's match. The IKEA-fanciers have improved with every match, and I have to eat my words; they look good for a possible run deep into the knock-out stages.Brazil is both beautiful and unpredictable. The cariocas were undefeated in the group stage, and Marta and the gals from the land of football showed one of the reasons why FIFA should really just designate their side the official representative of CONMEBOL and be done with it (Colombia's dire showing was the other). But this team seems fragile, to me. And, like the Brazilian men, I think that if they come unstuck they have the potential to be truly awful. I think that if a determined USWNT shows up on Sunday things might not go well for them. I'm not sure why I believe that...but I do. We'll have to see.Australia is ugly and unpredictable. Well, they got through. That game against Guinea was awful, though, wasn't it? How you let your defenders get their pockets picked not once, but TWICE, and by the same player? Brutal errors at the back but some luck up front with help from the truly wretched Norwegians, who really need to pay a visit to their neighbors and ask the Swedes for whatever they've been using to train with.
Well done for the Matildas to get past the group stage, but I can't help thinking that unless Sweden gets very, very bad very suddenly that the dream might be over. Play for a nil-nil draw, shielas, and hope for some lucky PKs.The US has had only one good match and is looking very beatable right now. And the "good match" was against this year's designated CONMEBOL bolso de perforación of women's football, Colombia. I think I mentioned in the earlier post that the outside backs looked slow and roundable, and sure enough Amy LePeilbet - aside from the truly appalling own goal - was beaten like a drum all night by the Swedes. I thought that Coach Sundhage would see how bad the North Koreans made her look and adjust, and she didn't. Shannon Boxx looked slow and off-pace again, as well - the entire U.S. midfield was ineffective against the Swedes. Some bad luck, too, like Rapinoe's miss off the crossbar...but, still. It was the U.S.'s game to win, and they couldn't do it against a solid but otherwise unexceptional Swedish side.
So now Sundhage needs to fire this team up, needs to ensure they bring their A game against Brazil or the U.S. might not even have a chance of a consolation third. I think an aggressive U.S. still has a chance. But it's still a much less more certain chance than a quarterfinal against the Aussies would have been.There has been some really awful officiating in this tournament. I normally don't whinge about officials. Referees are like the weather; some good, some bad, some just so terrible that you want to pull your head under the covers and whimper. So long as they're just bad both ways...enh, you have to deal with them.
But the Australia-Equatorial Guinea game got rough to the point of dangerous. And some really obvious stuff went flying past the referees, not just the usual thuggery. Watch Marta's first goal against Norway - it starts here about 0:27, with the really revealing shot at about 0:41 - where she just shoves the defender down from behind. Yes, there's some lovely footwork in a second or two where she drops the Norwegian left inside back on her ass with pure awesomeness. But...if dumping the first player to ride the nose plow isn't a foul...what is? The play should have never proceeded past the initial shove. Terrible, terrible non-call. Game-changer. And not the only one I saw.
It says something that I expect a higher level of officiating - and, perhaps, a higher level of play - from the women's internationals than the men's. But I do, and this year for all that there has been the usual fine play and good officiating, there's been some truly dire stuff there, too, which is perhaps why I noticed it...
OK - so; what's next?
My predictions for the quarters:
Germany over Japan 3-0
France over England 2-1
Sweden edges Australia 1-0
US draws Brazil 0-0, wins on PKs 5-4
And the semis?
I honestly have no idea who would win between France and Sweden. I'll pick France, simply because I'd like to see the go to the final.
The other semi will be a terrific match. It'll be either Brazil-Germany or, it I'm correct, the USWNT-Germany. I think I have to pick the Germans to go through for my France-Germany final.
But the horses of the night are running swiftly...and tomorrow, we shall see.