I enjoyed today's world cup opener in the comfort of my own home (and successfully made dinner in exactly 15 minutes during halftime). Even before the game started though, I got worried -- it seems that Audi decided to advertise during the WWC (good), however, they appear to be too lazy to actually put together a new ad, so they featured an ad with a bunch of men's soccer and proclaimed themselves a partner of the MLS. Really? A commercial during the WOMEN'S world cup and you can't be bothered to film a new commercial? Sheesh.
Canada were heavy favorites going into the match, but China did not seem to have gotten the message. They opened up with a lot of pressure on the ball and prevented Canada from developing any kind of rhythm in the game. I got distracted by the tiny black pellets being flung in the air from the artificial turf. For those of you who have never played on turf, let me try to describe it. Let's see - it sucks. The field is hard and you end up just that much sorer after; your shoes and clothes get covered in tiny rubber pellets (made from old tires from what I understand); and the field radiates heat -- a lot of it. And did I mention how nicely the turf tears up your legs. If you've been burying your head in the turf for the past year, you might not know that the men have NEVER had to play a World Cup on turf, but what do you expect from an organization whose (former) leader thought that the way to increase the popularity of women's soccer was to have the women wear tighter shorts. (Reminds me of the uniforms in a League of Their Own -- I guess some things haven't changed since the 40's.)
Anyway, back to the game. Watching Christine Sinclair move the ball really is a thing of beauty. She had a couple of plays early in the game, but became largely invisible for a disturbingly long time in the first half.
As I said earlier, China did a fabulous job putting pressure on the ball. They were also terrific at getting every player back on defense. The first really close call of the game (and perhaps the closest non-goal I've ever witnessed) came from China in the 22nd minute -- the shot hit two goal posts, but thanks to goal line technology, we know that the ball never entirely crossed the plane of the goal line, so no goal!
Approaching half time, China had only 32% possession, but had done a good job containing Canada and threatening on the counter attack. Many of us are still curious about the Chinese strategy of making a sub in the 42nd minute. Why not wait until half time? Inquiring minds want to know!
The second half was a bit different -- Canada put together a number of threatening combinations, but China's goaltender was incredibly solid. There weren't spectular saves, but there were many good solid saves. So, it was with some sadness that I watched the 92nd minute as China took down a player in the box and got called for a penalty. It was the right call, but a somewhat unfortunate way for the game to end. Given Canada's intensity in the second half, particularly in those last 15 minutes, I'd say the win was earned, but it was a bitter defeat for China. I'm looking forward to their next game.
Final score: Canada 1, China 0