Re­main­ing teams are mostly Cup vet­er­ans

Women’s soc­cer is still a pri­vate club as only three new­comer na­tions ad­vance.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - KEVIN BAX­TER ON SOC­CER

ED­MON­TON, Canada — Now that the pre­lim­i­nar­ies are over, it’s time for the women’s World Cup to re­ally get started. Be­cause for all the ex­cite­ment about the ex­panded field and the eight teams that were mak­ing their tour­na­ment de­buts here, when the round of 16 be­gins Satur­day the World Cup will look pretty much the way it has al­ways looked.

Only three of the debu­tants — Cameroon, Switzer- land and the Nether­lands — made it out of the group stage. Nine of the other teams that ad­vanced are play­ing in a World Cup for at least the sixth time.

Among them are the U.S., Ger­many, Nor­way and Ja­pan, the only coun­tries to have ever won a ti­tle, as well as ev­ery team that has ever played in a World Cup semi-

fi­nal.

So all that talk of par­ity in the women’s game may have been a bit pre­ma­ture. For the time be­ing, the up­per reaches of women’s soc­cer re­main a pri­vate club, its doors closed to all but a se­lect few.

Yet de­spite the over­whelm­ing sense of deja vu, con­sider this World Cup a knock on those doors nonethe­less.

Cameroon, one of the new teams, came into the tour­na­ment ranked 53rd in the world — ahead of only Ivory Coast — yet won as many games in group play as both Ger­many and the U.S. And by fin­ish­ing sec­ond in its group, it be­came just the sec­ond African coun­try to reach the elim­i­na­tion stages of a women’s World Cup.

South Korea won its first World Cup game ever to join China and de­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­pan in the round of 16, mark­ing the first time Asia has had three teams ad­vance.

“It’s any coun­try’s op­por­tu­nity. And that’s why ev­ery­body frig­gin’ loves this game,” said U.S. Coach Jill El­lis. “Small coun­tries, big coun­tries, it re­ally is a game that the world can com­pete [in].”

But com­pet­ing is one thing and win­ning is another. Tak­ing that next step will re­quire a com­mit­ment — fi­nan­cial and oth­er­wise — from the rul­ing soc­cer fed­er­a­tions back home. And some women’s teams come beg­ging for that money while still fight­ing pitched bat­tles against out­dated cul­tural per­cep­tions that say a woman’s place is not on the soc­cer field.

“There’s been lots of talk of other coun­tries over­com­ing things ... just not hav­ing gear and not hav­ing enough fund­ing,” said U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd. “For them to over­come them, it’s pretty amaz­ing. If only we could up the fund­ing a lit­tle bit more with some of the other coun­tries, it would re­ally go a long way with women’s soc­cer.”

Some have al­ready made in­roads. In Spain, for ex­am­ple, where women’s soc­cer had not been em­braced pre­vi­ously, the team was front-page news de­spite go­ing win­less and fin­ish­ing last in its group in its World Cup de­but.

But now the elim­i­na­tion round be­gins and talk of grow­ing the game gives way to talk of crush­ing your op­po­nent.

The most com­pelling sec­ond-round game could be the first, with Ger­many meet­ing Swe­den on Satur­day af­ter­noon. It’s the only matchup of top-five teams — Ger­many is No. 1 in the latest FIFA rank­ings and Swe­den is No. 5 — and both coaches have squared off be­fore in a World Cup. In 1995, when Swe­den’s Pia Sund­hage and Ger­many’s Sil­via Neid were still play­ing, Sund­hage scored the ty­ing goal in a 3-2 win over Neid and Ger­many.

So far in this World Cup, Neid’s team has won twice and com­piled the best goal dif­fer­en­tial in the tourna- ment at +14 while Sund­hage’s Swe­den is win­less, hav­ing played to three draws.

The only other matchup of top-10 teams is be­tween sev­enth-ranked Brazil and No. 10 Aus­tralia. The South Amer­i­cans are one of just two un­beaten, un­tied teams in this tour­na­ment — Ja­pan is the other — but Brazil has scored just four goals in three games, same as Aus­tralia. The dif­fer­ence is Brazil hasn’t al­lowed any while Aus­tralia has given up four, in­clud­ing three by the U.S. in its opener.

On the other end of the ex­cite­ment scale is France ver­sus South Korea. Af­ter be­ing stunned in a 2-0 loss to Colom­bia, France re­bounded to rout Mexico and win its group while South Korea needed a friendly cross­bar on the last play of its last game with Spain to ad­vance.

France scored as many goals in the first 36 min­utes against Mexico as South Korea scored in three games. Plus, no team in the sec­ond round has al­lowed as many goals as the Kore­ans, who have con­ceded five.

So if ev­ery­thing goes to form, ex­pect to see the same fa­mil­iar flags fly­ing in the quar­ter­fi­nals with China, the U.S., Ger­many, France, Brazil, Ja­pan, Nor­way and Canada all likely to go through.

Of those, only France has played in fewer than four World Cups and only France and host Canada have failed to reach a World Cup fi­nal.

So in women’s soc­cer, it seems the more things change the more they stay the same.

Ge­off Robins AFP/Getty Im­ages

CHINA’S LEI JI­AHUI heads a ball dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion. China was one of three Asian teams to ad­vance.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.