June 13: Matchday 7
Australia 3 – 2 Brazil
This game was completely bonkers, and a lot of fun to watch. But hardly an impressive display from either team. The big questions going in were: ‘can Australia improve on their mediocre start’ and ‘is Brazil actually better than we all thought?’ The answers to both were unfortunately ‘no’ and ‘no.’
But before dwelling on the negatives, let’s talk about the positives. This was a wild, open game, especially in the first half, with both teams going full blazes. Australia found very little in front of goal, sending in a bunch of weak crosses, but at least they were moving the ball with some purpose, especially down the right flank. The decision to play Steph Catley (one of the top left backs in the game) at centerback was mostly successful. She injected some pace, and they were finding enough joy from Carpenter at right back that the loss of Catley’s attacking force down the left wasn’t a huge problem. But then we saw the limitations of play Catley in the center, as Debinha sent in a cross and Catley was simply outmuscled by Cristiane who powered it home. That, along with Marta’s penalty, put Brazil up 2-0.
But then came the comeback. A superb ball in from Logarzo found Foord. Then Logarzo got on the scoresheet herself on a bizarre ball that seemed aimed for Kerr in the box. But the two defenders and goalkeeper were so focused on blocking out Kerr that they didn’t actually stop the ball, and it bounced right in. Then came the coup de grace: an own goal under truly bizarre circumstances. I’m not going to get into analyzing it here, since I’ll have a more developed piece out tomorrow. But it counted, which is the important thing, and Australia had their lead.
In the end, it was enough. There was a late penalty shout from Brazil for what looked like a rugby tackle by Kennedy in the box, but it wasn’t called, and Australia had their victory.
It was a famous comeback for Australia, and Kerr took at shot at their doubters after the match. Which, count me as one. Because while Australia won this game, they looked pretty awful in the process. The defense is in shambles, and the midfield was completely overrun by Brazil – not a particularly strong team in the midfield, to be honest. For a team that looked like genuine contenders pretty recently, Australia has kind of fallen apart. Polkinghorne has been a disaster, and Kennedy only a little better. Catley as a makeshift centerback worked okay, but wasn’t great. Kellond-Knight was bad at fullback, and Carpenter is still a very limited player. And there’s almost literally no one behind these players in the depth chart either.
Meanwhile, the midfield can barely play the ball, since the only two credible ballwinners they have (Kennedy and Kellond-Knight) are stuck in the backline.
Any team with Sam Kerr is going to be a terrifying opponent in a knockout game. But unless Australia figures the rest of their business out, and soon, they are going to get steamrolled the first time they play a legitimately good team.
South Africa 0 – 1 China
A thoroughly professional showing from China, who dominated the game from start to finish, and effectively shut down South Africa across the board. They possessed the ball very nicely, and while the finishing left something to be desired in general, it only takes one. And what a one it was. Li Ying had an impressive game, and her goal is one of the prettiest of the tournament.
I wasn’t thrilled with the way China played against Germany, but there’s no denying it was effective. They probably won’t get away with it to the same extent again, but even if they’re significantly more reined-in, that kind of disruptive performance could be enough to really threaten any team in the tournament. But it was nice to see them go wholly in the other direction this game, with lots of quick passing and movement. They were still physical – and made it extremely difficult for South Africa to ever settle – but they came to play, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
One player who particularly impressed me was Lin Yuping, the 5’11 central defender who was absolutely dominant in the air, shutting down basically every single ball that South Africa tried to play over the top, and thereby neutralizing one of their only attacking weapons. Lin is 27 and only has 15 or so caps to her name, so has clearly been a late-bloomer. But I really know nothing more than what I saw here. Would love to know more about her story.
For South Africa, advancing from this group was always a long shot, and it’s now probably impossible. They put in strong efforts against two excellent teams, and now get the reward of playing Germany. Ouch. But even so, they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.
– The atmosphere in the Parc des Princes for South Africa v. China was fantastic. It was only about half full, which is less than ideal. But the 20,000 who were there made up for it with enthusiasm. At many times, there were three or four different songs or chants all competing to be loudest. And the corner of the stadium that was taken over by the traveling Chinese contingent was L.O.U.D. Really wonderful to be there.
– Kerr didn’t score today, but her mere presence led directly to two of Australia’s three goals. On Logarzo’s, they were so distracted trying to prevent Kerr from scoring, they failed to actually stop the ball. And the own goal was clearly a product of fear about Kerr lurking behind. It hasn’t been a great tournament so far for Kerr, but even without a gaudy goals-total, she’s still making a difference.
– I’ve been thankfully protected from the Fox coverage of this tournament for the most part. But I have heard what’s going on. And I have to say: the lazy, racially coded stuff about black teams being physical and athletic is pure trash and thoroughly embarrassing. Please be better.
- Japan – Scotland. This should be a fascinating tie. Japan were frustrated against Argentina, but may have gotten over their nerves a bit. Scotland played well against England, but not well enough to earn a result. They’ll both still feel confident in their ability to advance. But what lessons will have Scotland learned from Argentina? Will they follow the same strategy: play tight and hope to spring them on the break? If so, having weapons like Cuthbert and Little could be enough. But Japan will also be ready to adapt. So Scotland may prefer to come out more aggressively and apply pressure high.
- Jamaica – Italy. Italy got a surprise win against Australia, which puts them in great position here. They will certainly be favored against Jamaica, and a win would guarantee them a spot in the Round of 16. Prepare for a game with a lot of running. Neither side are particularly strong in possession, and would prefer to attack with pace more than precision.
- England – Argentina. Can Argentina work another miracle? I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, not against an England team that should be far more prepared to simply overwhelm their defensive structure. But I wouldn’t have thought they could hold out against Japan either. Look for England to get their clever midfielders a lot of time on the ball, spraying passes and forcing open channels for the forwards to run into, and for their fullbacks to get very engaged in the attack to put pressure across the whole spectrum and limit Argentina’s ability to provide covering support.
I’ll be traveling to Reims to see Jamaica v. Italy, which I’m really excited about. I’ve really enjoyed following Jamaica ever since CONCACAF qualifying back in Texas last October, and Italy’s performance last week was one of my highlights of the tournament. Can’t wait to see this one.