Brazil versus Spain
One might have thought that since this was Spain's first World Cup that it would be a walk in the park or a dance down the field for the flashy Brazilians, but no - it was a terrific match! Brazil was not yet Brazil. Let me explain what I mean by that. Brazil does not support its women's team between the summer Olympics and the World Cup (read this for more details), so they come together just in time to get ready for World Cup. This means that while other teams have been playing together for years, the Brazilian team has been playing together for weeks or a few months at best. As a result, I frequently find that they get surprisingly better and better as the touranment progresses. The Brazil team that everyone knows from exciting elimination round games is not the same one that plays in the group stage -- that's not to say they aren't still pretty darned good.
In any case, Spain played a terrific game, putting a lot of pressure on the Brazilian midfield, forcing turnovers, and stripping the ball with amazing regularity. They created plenty of opportunities in front of the goal as well. I don't expect teams to look speedy next to the Brazilians, but Spain did. Right before the half, Brazil snuck one in on a complicated set of moves that included one of the most spectacular saves of the tournament (or perhaps that I'd ever seen -- it was certainly up there with Klingenberg's goalline header). Alves (Brazil) had beaten Spain's keeper and laid a ball off toward the goal (from within the box). In an heroic sprint, Jimenez (Spain) slid into the goal and kicked the ball away before it had crossed the line. It was breathtaking, but sadly, she didn't clear it far enough and Alves was still there, and she finished it with confidence. Truly, a heartbreaker.
The second half was more of the same -- end to end ball, Spain pressuring relentlessly, Brazil only sporadically looking like the Brazil I expect we'll see in the elimination round. Spain had a few more close calls, but they simply couldn't buy a goal -- shots wide, shots into the post. It was frustrating -- Spain deserved to tie it up, but alas, final score: Brazil 1, Spain 0.
Next up: Korea versus Costa Rica
Well, Costa Rica is another one of those first-time teams, but they don't act like it. They are perhaps the Cinderella team of the World Cup (in contention with Columbia who pulled a surprise upset over the French!). Korea are reasonable World Cup veterans and they look it. The crowd, which had been heavily pro-Brazil for the first game, was torn in this one. There was a large Korean contingent, well-organized, and vocal in their support, but the Costa Rican women just won the crowd over, and I think by the end, most of those with no prior allegiances were cheering for the tenacious Las Ticas.
It was clear from the beginning that Korea was not going to walk all over the spunky Ticas. The Ticas were quick, quick, quick (no wonder they tied Spain) and they had some ball skills that would have caught the eye of any Brazil fan. So, while Korea was playing a tight controlled passing game, Costa Rica was playing a fast, direct, strip-the-ball and run kind of game. It was exciting! It didn't take long to remember the Costa Rican goalie (the USA played Costa Rica in the Concacaf title match). She is tremendously skilled, but likes to come out of the goal -- a lot -- and it scares the daylights out of the fans (and perhaps her teammates?). I thought she looked young, but she's 27; I still expect to see her become a truly great goalie.
Anyway, the two teams had styles in marked contrast, and it looked like Costa Rica's was more effective, especially in the 17th minute, when Melissa Herrera squirted a ball in the goal that the referee pretty much missed. A Korean player knocked the ball back out of the goal, but thanks to the WWC's first use of goal line technology, the goal was recognized. Korea looked a bit shell shocked and both Costa Rica and the fans went wild.
The jubilation didn't last for long though -- only a few minutes later, a penalty in the box gave Korea an opportunity to tie it up on a PK, which they did. I think this took a bit of wind out of the gleeful Ticas, and only six minutes later, Korea, scored on a picture perfect textbook cross and head by Kang Yumi (cross) and Jeon Gaeul (header). Now the TIcas were down one. What was interesting is that right at the point where Korea went down, they broke form from their tight controlled game and started some long balls. This seems to have changed the tenor of the game just long enough for them to put the second goal in. This somewhat new game continued for the rest of the half, which ended at 2-1 Korea.
The second half was every bit as intense as the first -- full length back and forth, pressure on players all over the field and again, the speed of the Costa Rican team -- it was a great game. It looked like Costa Rica was going to end up with their first World Cup loss until the 89th minute, when Karla Villalobos snuck behind the defensive line and put one in! It was wild! Final score: 2-2.
Next up for Costa Rica, Brazil -- expect a great game. And at the same time, Korea versus Spain -- likely another great game.