If the measure of a champion is the ability to play very well when it seems most necessary, can we discount the chances of England and Australia as the Women’s World Cup moves on?
The former began the tournament in Germany in disappointing fashion, managing only a draw against Mexico, and then played a solid game against Japan to finish on top of Group B. The latter needed only to draw with Norway in their third game of the group stage to advance to the quarter finals. Never mind a draw, thought Australia. They outplayed the Norwegians, historically a strong team, and won that game convincingly.
And neither of those two teams is favored to win the tournament.
On the other hand, the U.S., needing a draw on Wednesday to finish on top of Group C, could not manage to contain Sweden. Now Abby Wambach, Hope Solo et al must face Brazil this weekend. Commenting on that prospect during Wednesday’s match, ESPN analyst Julie Foudy bravely suggested that this might not be such a bad thing, since she feels Brazil’s somewhat unorthodox defense makes them vulnerable to the sort of team pressure the U.S. can apply, at least on their more organized days. Maybe so, except that while Brazil has scored seven times in three games and allowed no goals at all, the U.S. has netted only six goals while giving up two.
Brazil and Sweden won all three of their group stage games, as did Germany. The Germans are the defending champions. Why shouldn’t they win again? And what about France? They’ve scored as many goals as anybody else. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Japan, though unable to upset England, has looked disciplined and formidable.
On the eve of this tournament’s quarter finals, it’s apparent that the quality of women’s soccer is healthier than it’s ever been. Each of the teams that has gone through has won fans with their play, and the remainder of the tournament should be great fun.
It’s also worth mentioning that in their play-by-play and color commentary, ESPN’s Foudy, Ian Darke, and Kate Markgraf have assumed that their audience didn’t need to be told that the soccer ball is round rather than football-shaped. This, too, represents welcome progress.