June 14: Matchday 8
Japan 2 – 1 Scotland
It’s almost bizarre how closely this game tracked with Scotland’s first match. Once again they fell behind 2-0 in the first half, partly due to a somewhat questionable penalty. Once again they finally found some attacking venom in the final twenty minutes, and did enough to get a consolation goal back, despite looking extremely leggy. Once again they were furious about the refereeing.
In the end, 2-1 was a pretty fair result. Japan were by far the better team for most of the game, but weren’t able to translate it into as much attacking success as they would have liked. And while their light pressing was enough to frustrate Scotland for most of the game, the defense broke down a bit toward the end.
Scotland can deservedly feel a little hard done by, with several decisions going against them. The penalty is a great example of something RJ Allen brought up in our pre-World Cup episode of The 123rd Minute – an NWSL player who is not ready for the stricter refereeing at this tournament. Rachel Corsie does this exact thing multiple times per game every weekend for the Utah Royals, and no one bats an eye. And even on the international level, it was a soft penalty. But the reality is that if you put your hands on an attacker in the box – particularly if you do it high up on the body rather than down at the waist – you’re opening yourself up to a penalty.
Later in the game, Scotland seemed to earn a penalty of their own, after kicking the ball off a Japanese player’s arm in the box. It’s precisely the sort of thing that shouldn’t be a penalty, but which have been repeatedly called according to the new interpretation of the rule.
In either case, you could absolutely go either way. It just happened to be the case that both decisions went against Scotland. For them and their fans, that will be absolutely infuriating.
The Scottish team probably didn’t ‘deserve’ a result on the night, given the overall balance of play. But while it often felt like Japan was on the verge of adding more, they only actually managed the one goal from open play. So if those two decisions had merely evened out, Scotland very easily could have earned a point here.
Even without that point, they have a decent chance of making the knockout stage. It will take beating Argentina, of course, but they’ve kept their goal difference very tight, which is the key thing. If they can actually get the three points, they’ll go through.
Japan haven’t technically qualified yet, but for all practical purposes they have. They looked much better today than they did against Argentina, and seem very much like a team who will play to the level of their opposition. There’s no realistic chance of them winning four straight games to win the tournament. But I certainly wouldn’t want to play them in a knockout game.
Jamaica 0 – 5 Italy
Going into the tournament, Italy were generally regarded by casual fans as a random European team who probably couldn’t be written off, and by more knowledgeable folks like Yours Truly as a team with ‘Potential, Who Aren’t There Yet.’ And then a few genuinely knowledgeable people (everyone is following Sophie Lawson, right?) popped up a hand and said ‘well, they might actually be there already.’
Folks, they’re here already.
I’ve been lucky enough to see them in person twice, and they might just be my favorite team in the whole tournament so far.
No, this Jamaica team is among the weaker teams here. But that’s a relative matter. They’re still pretty good. And Italy played them exceptionally well, and more than deserved a lopsided result, even if there were some peculiar twists and turns along the way.
I’m not really going to get into the penalty save/retake situation, except to say that this is yet another prominent example of the way that the laws of soccer are essentially arbitrary, and ill-suited to the kind of work we expect them to do in the 21st century. Did Schneider come off her line? Yes, by a very small amount. Is this sort of thing called? Almost never. Is it technically a violation? Yes. What are we honestly supposed to do with a system that’s so fundamentally incoherent, which simultaneously claims to measure fouls by a fraction of an inch?
Over the course of the game, Italy showed that they are strong not only in their tactical play – they were masters of occupying space and shutting down passing lanes – but also in their sheer physicality. There was no single player in the Italian backline who could individually handle Bunny Shaw, but as a group they kept her relatively quiet. As the captain Sara Gama noted after the match, Shaw is dangerous because she will shoot from anywhere and with almost no warning. But all those shots were blocked because there were consistently two or three Italians hanging on her shoulder.
And the Italian attack was superb. Admittedly, the Jamaican midfield gave them some room, but it was still marvelous to see them exploit it. And their striking core is proving themselves to be one of the most dangerous in the tournament. And they can find success in so many different ways and from different angles. Barbara Bonansea didn’t add to her goal tally but her link play was excellent. Cristiana Girelli managed a hat trick without any of the three looking particularly impressive. But those things don’t happen by accident. It may look silly to score with your face or to chest in a goal, but it takes being in the right place. Then, substitute Aurora Galli entered the game and produced a wonder strike fitting of a 5-0 victory.
Italy, a team that has not been to the World Cup in two decades, is through to the knockout stage with every chance of topping their group. As Girelli told me after the game: “It’s a kind of magic. I mean, we left from Italy hoping to enjoy first, and then to pass the round. We made it, so we are really happy!”
For Jamaica, this was another frustrating result. They actually played quite well, and almost certainly should have found at least a consolation goal, if not two, in the second half. But the chances didn’t fall. At times, it looked like their urgency overwhelmed them and they tried just a bit too hard – playing faster but not necessarily smarter. But there were huge bright spots. Despite the goal tally, keeper Sydney Schneider put in another solid performance, including the penalty save that was taken away. Shaw couldn’t score, but occupied several Italian defenders all night, and gave her teammates space to work. Mireya Grey was a breathe of fresh air in the attack, while Jody Brown brought tons of energy in the second half. Chinyelu Asher looked dangerous out wide, while Havana Solaun played quite a few dangerous passes. And Deneisha Blackwood put in one hell of a performance at fullback. She was a dynamo, covering huge amounts of space, wrestling off defenders, winning tackles, and generally looking like someone who is impossible to play against. It was the best I’ve ever seen her play, and genuinely thrilling to watch.
England 1 – 0 Argentina
I saw zero minutes of this match, since it coincided exactly with my travels back from Reims. That means I’ve now seen zero minutes total of England. I was really interested in England going into the tournament so it’s weird I still haven’t seen them. And since I’ll be at the Scotland-Argentina match that happens at the same time as their final group stage match, I probably won’t catch much of that either.
It sounds from reports that this was a less successful defensive performance from Argentina, rescued by a show-stopping night from Vanina Correa in goal. Still, it’s incredibly impressive that they’ve gone 180 minutes against two of the top ten teams in the world and only conceded one goal.
Two points could theoretically be enough to advance, if neither New Zealand or Cameroon win a game, and Chile and Thailand. But more realistically, they’ll need a win against Scotland to go through. I wouldn’t say the chances are high there, but it’s certainly a realistic possibility.
The danger is that they’ll have to actually open themselves up a bit to attack, and in doing make it far harder to keep their own goal protected. I’m certainly pulling for them,. As much as I love the Scotland team, it would be a hell of a fun story if Argentina get through.
– As I mentioned above, I wrote a long piece on the laws of the game, and the problems that VAR is exposing (though not precisely creating). Give it a read, and then read Ian’s response/elaboration which offers a very interesting alternative perspective.
– I am a massive Bunny Shaw fan, but she should have been sent off. Her attempted bicycle kick put a boot directly into Sara Gama’s head. It was lucky that the connection was more glancing than full-on, but just a few inches different and she could be in intensive care right now. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s a red card.
– Kim Little is one of the best players in the world, but she’s having to do too much and it’s really limiting her effectiveness. I don’t know what the right place for her to play is, but it’s probably not holding mid. I understand the impulse to put your best player at a critical hinge, but I think they need to trust someone else to do a job, and take some of the responsibility off Little to shepherd play every single instant.
– I have thoroughly enjoyed riding the trains with fans of the various teams. Props to the Jamaica fans on the 21:12 out of Champagne-Ardenne tonight. Y’all were great.
- Netherlands – Cameroon. The Netherlands couldn’t finish in their last match, but given the lethal strikeforce they have at their disposal, there’s no reason to expect that to last. Cameroon were solid against Canada, but this feels like it’s as likely to finish 4-0 or 5-0 to the Dutch as it is for Cameroon to get a result.
- Canada – New Zealand. These teams are both good at many things, but scoring goals is not one of them. Of course, having said that, maybe it will end up a wild 4-3. I doubt it, though. We’re still in Sinclair watch. Failure to get any against Cameroon makes it much less likely she breaks the record in this tournament, but it’s absolutely still possible.
I’m not going to either of these games. In fact, I’m not traveling anywhere at all. For the first time in the whole tournament, I could just sit on the couch in my Airbnb all day if I wanted. But assuming I can get myself up, I’m going to see some water lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, and if it’s nice out do some reading in the Tuileries Garden, and then get some crepes.
Which, hey, if you’re in Paris and you want to talk about soccer or see some great impressionist art tomorrow, hit me up.