June 20: Matchday 14
The group stage is over. It took 14 days and 32 games to eliminate a grand total of eight teams. It’s actually kind of a silly process, but so many of these games have been so great that I find it hard to really complain.
Cameroon 2 – 1 New Zealand
Netherlands 2 – 1 Canada
In the day’s early games, the Netherland confirmed their status at the top of the group with a win, albeit not a particularly easy one. The real excitement was in Cameroon v. New Zealand, where we looked set for yet another ‘draw that helps neither team’ until literally the final seconds of the game, when Cameroon found their winner. It was an absolutely magical moment for them, and a well-deserved result for a team that has played tough in all three games. That result did eliminate Argentina and Thailand, and really put the pressure on Chile for the late game–forcing them to win by a clear three goals to advance.
The Canada-Netherlands game mostly confirmed things we already knew about these teams. Canada did an excellent job killing off the game for about an hour – showing why many of us have tipped them as team that could go further than might seem plausible. They’re not going to beat many of the other top teams, in the sense of outplaying them. But they can neutralize just about anyone.
At the same time, the Dutch did find two goals, one more than Canada had conceded over the entire rest of 2019. So even though the Netherlands still didn’t quite look right, there were a few solid glimpses of the team that won the Euros. It was enough to net them the two goals they needed.
If they expect to go significantly further in the tournament, they’re going to need to get better performances from their defenders, who once again looked pretty shaky. They also may want to consider whether the likes of Jill Roord and Lineth Beerensteyn might deserve a start. They’ve been getting very little from Lieke Martens and Shanice van de Sanden. It’s hard to argue against going with proven talent, and the substitutions have been working well. But they’ve also had to ride a decent bit of luck to win their three games.
Sweden 0 – 2 United States
Thailand 0 – 2 Chile
Heartbreak for Chile, who came achingly close to qualifying for the knockout stage by only managing two of the three goals they needed. I was in Le Havre watching the US so I didn’t get a chance to see it, but it sounds like this was the truly exciting match of the late time slot, one which was unfortunately probably seen by a tiny fraction of the people who watched the other game.
But since I was one of those who watched the other game, that’s where I’ll have to restrict my comments.
After two matches that were effectively uncontested, the US finally got to face some serious opposition. It didn’t actually look that serious in the opening twenty or thirty minutes, as the US moved at breakneck speed and looked like a constant threat to score. Sweden struggled badly in this period to do anything with the ball, occasionally finding a little space out wide but almost nothing else. And they also seemed at a loss to cope with the US ball movement and speed of play. They didn’t really press, but also didn’t drop back to limit space. They mostly just backpedaled and then got turned by either a dribble or pass. It looked like it might turn into another bloodbath.
But eventually Sweden got their bearings, and the US dropped off a bit. The second half was much closer, with Sweden finding a lot more time on the ball, getting a lot of dangerous play from Kosovare Asllani in the middle and from Sofia Jackobsson out wide. Fridolina Rolfo also looked dangerous after she came on as a substitute.
Still, in spite of those threats, the US never really looked to be in danger. After a wonder goal from Tobin Heath (officially listed as an own goal), they rested fairly easily on their 2-0 margin.
In the end, that pretty much just means they held serve. This was a second-string Sweden team, with quite a few changes from their primary XI, and the US would have been expected to win pretty easily. Which they did. And that’s fine. When you’re the best team in the tournament, as long as you hold serve you’ll probably win.
But this certainly was’t a dominant performance, and it showed that all the weaknesses we’ve discussed at length are still there.
It also exposed one newish weakness: Megan Rapinoe. I don’t think this is actually that new of a phenomenon, since I actually struggle to think of examples from this year when she’s really been Megan Rapinoe. But this was a particuarly rough game for her. She was virtually nonexistent in the attack, and actively blew up several promising moves. It’s possible that this is her lingering injury. Maybe it’s rust from lack of training and limited games. Maybe she’s just finally reverted to the aging curve we all expected her to follow a couple years ago. Or maybe it’s just a bad patch and she’ll be back in top shape soon. I certainly don’t feel comfortable saying for sure. But given how dynamic Christen Press has been in that exact role, it’s certainly time to at least consider whether Press should be the first choice there for the upcoming knockout games.
– If you didn’t see it already, check out my post on last night’s truly mad experience: Scotland, Argentina, and the Human Condition.
– The second US goal was allowed to stand. And according to the rules as they appear to be written (and interpreted), that is apparently the correct call. But by any reasonable interpretation, it should clearly have been disallowed. Carli Lloyd very obviously interfered with play from an offside position. This is the rule, apparently. But it is an absolute nonsense rule and we should absolutely not tolerate it.
There are no games tomorrow. I don’t really know what we’re supposed to do with ourselves, to be completely honest.