Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Live from Valenciennes: Italy versus the Netherlands

Have I mentioned lately that we're having a heatwave?  As in record breaking temperatures in Paris and a balmy 92 degrees (32+) here in Valenciennes. And we thought the Paris quarter final was hot -- that was at 9:00 PM.  For some reason whose logic totally escapes me, today's quarterfinals are at 3:00 PM and 6:30 PM instead of the prior 5:30 and 900 PM games. It certainly  wasn't cool at those times, but it was way  better than it was in the mid-afternoon and later in the day you can harbor some fantasy that the sun will go down and you won't be sitting in direct sunlight for 3-4 hours.

Enough whining. Today's seats would have been wonderful on any  other day -- 5 rows back at about the 35; the only problem on  this particular day  is that we had absolutely not the tiniest bit of shade. On top of that, the seats in Stade du Hainaut are A) red patent leather (skin searing), B) separated by metal (skin branding), C) high (nose level). Just traps the heat in ever so much more!

The first quarter of the game saw a rather fiesty Italy looking like it really  was the Cinderella team of the tournament, who would defeat the mighty Netherlands. And even into the second quarter, Italy still looked quite strong and had the better chances. At halftime, it was a tight 0-0 match and those of us broiling in the sun, raced for the shade and breeze inside the stadium.

Unfortunately  for the Italians, the second half was much different. Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was exhaustion, but Italy of the second half was not the Italy of the first half. They missed passes they'd been making the first half and essentially collapsed into a defensive posture, which just invited the Dutch onslaught even more. You could see their frustration -- the four yellow cards might give you a hint of that. And then the inevitable -- in the 70th minute, Vivianne Miedema did it -- a glancing header off a gorgeous cross. It was textbook perfect. This seemed to demoralize Italy, who continued stalwart defense against the reinvigorated attackers. And so reinvigorated were they, that in the 80th minute, in an almost identical repeat, Stefanie van der Gragt headed in an equally well-placed ball, the result of yet another foul.

I wouldn't be lying if I said there was some relief in the stadium that we might not have to bake for an additional thirty minutes. After this game, there was no lingering in the stands for me -- it was out as quickly  as possible and into the shade!

We joined the parade of orange heading back from the stadium, with a slight detour to pick up the key for Vaas' airBnb. Following the fans turned out to be a great idea as it deposited us right in the fan zone which boasted an enormous display where they would be showing the Germany/Sweden quarterfinal. Thanks to Vaas' eagle eye, we scored ourselves a table in the shade with reasonable screen visibility. There was a large part of Swedish fans next to us, so we found ourselves cheering for Sweden.

With food, beverage, and shade available, it was a lovely afternoon in Valenciennes (which I have to confess is my least favorite city this trip). The game was also another hard fought quarterfinal battle. Germany are the seasoned Women's World Cup veterans -- the only team to have won back to back World Cups. Sweden are the USA nemesis who knocked them out in the Olympics quarterfinal three years  ago. You  might also remember Sweden from the the USA"s last group play game, which some claim Sweden sandbagged to get into the easier side of the bracket.

And so the game began, with Germany exerting their presence and dominating play. It looked like it was going to be a long day for Sweden. It only took until the 16th minute for Germany to go up 1-0 for a picture perfect pass to the feet of Lina Magull, who volleyed it in. This did not deter Sweden who continued to put increasing pressure on the German defense until only six minutes later, when a German misjudged header gave Sofia Jakobssen a clear shot that she neatly placed inside the far post.  Suddenly it was 1-1, and Germany had conceded their first goal of the tournament, and it was game on.

This was a new experience for Germany  -- being scored upon! Suddenly,  it seemed that Sweden forgot that Germany was the Women's World Cup powerhouse; they became relentless and looked repeatedly threatening, but the score remained 1-1 until halftime. After halftime, Sweden looked increasingly  like a team destined for the semi-finals, and it didn't take long: in the 48th minute, German keeper Almuth Schult scored a stunning save off of a Fridolino Rolofo header, but the ball dropped to the feet of Stina Blackstenius we slammed it into the goal.  2-1 Sweden!

Sweden continued to dominate most of the rest of the half and in the final few minutes held off a full court press and several dangerous German shots, but alas, Sweden emerged with is 2-1 victory a ticket to the semi-finals!

As the game wrapped up,  the fan zone came alive with a pyrotechnic display  including fireworks (in broad daylight ...), music, and a fire display.

The Italian fans seem to not have let a loss get in the way of their good time, and since the stadium had been too brutal for the required selfie, we took it outside in the fan zone.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Live from Paris: It's USA versus France in the Quarterfinal

It was hot. The European heatwave continued and the temperature was supposed to be over 90 at game time (that's 32+ for most of the world). The heat, however, did not dampen the enthusiasm of either the American or French fans who had come to see the match of the tournament. While the Americans were certainly invading Paris again, it was not quite as obvious since the French colors are red, white, and blue. Thus, both the streets and the stadium were a cacophony of red, white, and blue, american flags, french flags, glitter, deely boppers, and more.

Anticipating the crowd getting in, we went for the early entrance. The row I thought said O (the letter) was actually 0 (the number). So there we were, not in the front row (that was 00) but one row off the field, level with the 6-yard line of what would turn out to be France's goal for the first half. Yet a new perspective!

And, who should appear for warmups? No, we didn't get the USA this time, we got France!

I'm really  quite conflicted about the game. By now, you probably all know the outcome, but it was a pretty tense game to watch. It started out all right -- after all, within the first three minutes of play, Megan Rapinoe converted a free kick from a less than stellar angle into what can only  be described as an unbelievably  awesome and somewhat lucky goal. (Video of this goal, compliments of Vaas.) 

So, that was pretty, but what about the rest of the game? It looked a bit like role reversal to me. The US could not connect on passes, instead, laying them at the feet of the French onslaught. France maintained possession (when have you ever seen a USWNT game where the US struggled to maintain 40% possession).

I can only  imagine how frustrating the game was for France. They did practically everything right -- the maintained possession, they launched threatening attacks up the wings, they placed long balls at the feet of their speedy  forwards, and yet, the one thing they  couldn't do was put the ball in the net. Nope. The USA, who spent a huge fraction of the game defending, which, according to one NYT article, was their game plan all along. And then, in the 65' minute, we saw that flash of USWNT brilliance, with a Tobin Heath cross from the right, finished by Rapinoe, clinching her brace for the night.

The 2-0 lead was whittled back to 2-1 off a gorgeous French set piece that found Wendi Renard (yes, that's the 6'2" Wendi Renard) with a perfect header into the goal. This 2-1 lead made for a very tense 15 minutes with French relentless attacking, the US giving up  too many free kicks for my feeble heart, and a continued possession game for France.

Usually, the game stats support the outcome, but not this time. The US emerged with a victory in a game where France had over 60% possession, with 78% passing accuracy to the USA's 64%, and took 20 shots to the USA's 10. But at the end of the day, perhaps France's 5 shots on goal to the USA's 8 (that's an 80% on-goal percentage for the USA to a 25% on for France) justifies the 2-1 final score.
And we'll end this one with some video footage of the stands, along with the standard game selfie with Vaas Anand (one of our awesome UBC grad students, spending the summer at MPI-SWS in Saarbrucken).

And, in other news, in the first Quarterfinal, England beat Norway 3-0, so next up are the Lionesses on June 2! Stay tuned,

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Live from Reims: USA-Spain

And it was back to Reims! The good news is that I booked a 2-day stay; the bad news is that had I stayed one more night in Le Havre, I could have seen France vs Brazil in person. That was poor planning on my part (right along with not realizing that I should have scheduled a day in Reims to visit champagne houses and that I should have gotten a rental car in Le Havre, so I could have visited the D-Day beaches).

Anyway, after one last walk to Le Geant and the L'enfant, a two hour lay over in Gare de L'est (because I'm paranoid abobut missing trains), I found myself in Reims, the evening before the USA/Spain match and right on time to view France versus Brazil in our (air conditioned) hotel lounge. Did I mention that Europe decided to have a heatwave this week? It was a rather hot trip to Reims and even hotter for the next few days.

So there I found myself in the Novotel lounge with three Bay Area families traveling together (they all had daughters who play on the same club soccer team). They were a wonderful bunch of people who adopted me, fed me, offered me drinks and McFlurries, and shared in the France/Brazil game. I had not planned on the late night that a tie game would produce, but there you have it. It was a hard fought game and the final outcome was really unclear. France looked a bit less scary as our potential quarter final opponent (more on this later), and Brazil was heart broken. Final result: France 2, Brazil 1.

Earlier in the day, England earned themselves a quarterfinal berth with a 3-0 win over Cameroon, in what appears to have been a pretty ugly and contentious game. I was on trains and missed that.

So, with most of a day to kill in Reims, I set out for the Cathedral. I'm a sucker for cathedrals, and I've seen many of them, including several visits to Notre Dame de Paris. A paper on Chartres in college left me wanting to become an architect (as in real buildings, not computer systems), until I realized that there probably wasn't too much demand for gothic cathedrals these days. But, none of this prepared me for the breathtaking first glimpse of Notre Dame De Reims as I entered the plaza in front of it.
For most of the trip, I've avoided taking too many pictures of things for which there are many superior pictures one can find online, bubt I couldn't contain myself: the overall majesty of the place, the stained glass, the gargoyles, the incredible porticos and statuary all left me helpless. Amazingly, while roaming around inside the cathedral, the daily service was taking place, and I was relieved that the (predominantly) American tourists were properly quiet and respectful. (As in other cities in which the US played, it looked like the Americans had invaded.)
There were so many that I have made them available via SmugMug with the password 'cathedral' (it seems that since I have a password on the site, I have to have one on the gallery).

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon wandering the city, following the recommended tourist trail, stocking up on bandaids and batteries, and then finally, grabbing lunch in my air-conditioned room and hydrating before the game in the 92/33 degree temperature, where water is forbidden at the entrance and expensive in the stadium.
I headed out around 4:30 and soon found myself amongst the literal parade of Americans headed to the stadium.

This game, I was joined by Win Treese the first half (with whom I remembered the gratuitous selfie) and Marie the second half (with whom I forgot the gratuitous selfie).

It would be an understatement to say that this was not our best game. We looked, well, just bad. Our passes were all just too long, we weren't moving the ball around effectively. And Spain looked good -- not quite like France in the opening match, but they were moving well, hitting their own players on long balls (which we could not do to save our lives), and beating us to the ball more frequently than I've ever seen.

And then, in the 7th minute, a Spain foul in the box paved the way for a 1-0 USA lead as Megan Rapinoe calmly put a penalty away. The USA lead was short-lived. A mere two minutes later, with the USA backfield, once again passing around just a bit too close to our box for my taste at which point Naeher sent a weak pass to Sauerbraun, who, in a rare event, misplayed a ball to the feet of an oncoming Spanish forward, who blasted one right past Naeher. It was a frustrating goal -- the USA had already had several close encounters with precisely the same play, because they kept insisting on bouncing passes off of onrushing forwards, which in my humble opinion, is a badTM thing.
And then we settled into a long slog. The USA did keep Spain away from the goal a lot of the time (and the stats revealed a slight advantage in possession time for the USA), but we could not mount a credible attack. Mewis was effective in midfield, until she hit the attacking third, at which time, she could not seem to keep the ball on frame and/or without overshooting her target (which was a common theme among the team). Lavalle looked good, personally, but did not get the ball enough and seemed frustrated about not having any targets. Julie Ertz was consistent in the air and looked pretty much like her normal self. But, in my mind, as with the Sweden game, Crystal Dunn was the hero. She outran her forward, took way too many headers for someone her height (how does she do that?), and seemed to be involved in every scary play that the USA managed to stop.

Not only did we go into halftime with that uneasy tie, but we returned from halftime with the lineup unchanged, and continued in that uneasy tie until 76th minute at which point ... no we did not score a beautiful goal. But, Spain fell prey to another foul in the box, and after a length VAR review, in a repeat of the 7th minute, Rapinoe put it away.

Most baffling, Ellis made no substitutions until the 85th minute when a fresh Lloyd replaced a less than wonderfully effective Morgan. Later, at the 89th minute, in what can only be viewed as an attempt to waste time, Boran came in for Lavalle, and then in the, I kid you not, 97th minute, Press came in to replace an exhausted Rapinoe, who played well, but after 95 minutes in the stifling heat, with sprints that outran her mark over and over again, needed a break.

So, it was a victory, but it was an ugly one. The USA did not score during the run of play; Spain got aggressive and physical toward the end, and the US did not hold up well. We will have to do better against France or things will not be happy for the US fans who blew their summer vacation budgets to come to France.

In other news, the plan was to head back to the (air conditioned) hotel and watch Canada versus Sweden. However, as I was ambling back to the hotel (and ambling was the right word; it was still hot at 8:30 PM), I was annoyed at someone who'd blocked off part of the sidewalk, until I walked by and noticed Julie Foudy sitting on a ledge.
I had stumbled upon the US hotel! Never one to let that opportunity go by, I picked a ledge and waited. Eventually a small crew gathered (not large, maybe 20 people). We saw the family and friends bus arrive, including Zach Ertz (Julie's husband and Philadelphia Eagle) and Abby Wambach. Then we saw the coach's van come back...and then some other people, and finally, just about the same time the first half of the Canada game was ending, the team arrived. There were no autographs, just an interview with team co-captain Rapinoe (Lloyd is the other captain). Nonetheless, it was fun to be part of the experience. (The video of the players getting off the bus was too large to upload here, but you can see it on youtube or on the smugmug site.)

I then did make it back to the hotel where Canada was genuinely dominating Sweden, but in a familiar story, could not put the ball into the net. It was painful to see the PK that Sweden managed to stop, and even more painful to realize that Sinclair was not going to beat Abby's record this tournament, because Canada was headed home with a 1-0 loss to Sweden.

Very sad.

And in other games: Saturday, June 22
  • Germany 3, Nigeria 0
  • Norway 1, Australia 1 (NOR advances on PKs, 4-1)
Sunday, June 23
  • England 3, Cameroon 0
  • France 2, Brazil 1
Tuesday, June 25
  • Italy 2, China 0
  • Netherlands 2, Japan 1

Friday, June 21, 2019

Live from Le Havre: USA - Sweden

This time, the Americans invaded Gare Saint Lazarre. I got there fairly early, due to my arrival from Lausanne (to Gare de Lyon), and it looked like a pretty standard french train station around 12:30. However, by 2:00 PM (there were trains at 2:50 and 3:05), the place was crawling with team USA jerseys, red white and blue, and American tourists.

Getting on the train was equally fun (it didn't help that I mentally flipped seat 12 with seat 21...), but people were just much ruder, in much more of a hurry, and in general just a lot less pleasant than most of the folks on other trains. C'est la vie. Fortunately, it's only a two hour trip to Le Havre.
The Americans were running rampant all ver Le Havre with the occasional, much more dignified, Swedish fan. At least until I started wandering towards the train station and ran into about 300 Swedish supporters marching, parading, singing, chanting, etc. It was great fun.

By the time I got to the train station (which is still about 2.25 miles away from the stadium, there was a huge gathering of American fans in the bar across the street where they were showing Canada versus Netherlands. Canada and the Netherlands were also tied at 2-0, so this game determined who won the group (and will face Japan) and who finishes second and faces the loser of the USA Sweden game! The good news is that Christine Sinclair scored (just after I arrived at the bar); the bad news is that Canada lost 2-1. I have tickets now to see Japan play Netherlands; should be a good game, but not what I was planning.

Anyway, there were shuttles that took players from the train station to the game, so I stayed until the bitter end of the Canada game and then jumped on a shuttle, so I could get to the stadium by about 8:15 (for a 9:00 game). It was a relatively long walk around the space-ship looking stadium and we were subject to the usual bag searching and patting down, but I got eo my seats in plenty of time to see the USA warm up. And who was right in front of me?

The first minute or two of the game looked kind of awful to me. Neither team was able to assemble any kind of rhythm, and the ball get going back and forth between the two teams. And then there was a Megan Rapinoe corner, a ball whizzing across the mouth of the goal, and a Lindsay Horan pushing it into the goal. Just like that, it was 1-0.

This settled everyone down and the US started to look like the US, with Rose Lavalle putting on a particularly awe-inspiring performance in the center of the field. Her ability to dribble out of trouble change direction leap in the air to intercept headers, and basically own the field was breathtaking. I used to love watching Rose play for the breakers and she's so much more of a complete player now. I could have watched nothing but her the entire evening and been quite happy.

Contrary to what some reported, I thought Sweden looked threatening. Their strikers were incredibly speedy, and if they got the ball, things suddenly started looking worrisome for the US. I thought Crystal Dunn did an incredible job shutting them down, but it was scary at times.

The 1-0 lead held for the remaining 41 minutes of the half. The second half started off looking much like the first, albeit with Carli Lloyd in for a maybe-injured Alex Morgan. And then, almost mirroring the first half, in rougly the 50th minute, commotion in front of the Swedish goal, put the ball at the feet of Tobin Heath (always a bad idea). From a ridiculous angle, she took a shot that got deflected off of Lindahl and went into the goal. Initially credited to Heath, it was later changed to an own goal. Nonetheless, it was sharp play by Heath, who was later named player of the match.

The remaining half went much the way of the first. The US maintained possession, but Sweden capitalized on every mistake or sloppy pass. The US sometimes seemed it's own worst enemy passing the ball around the backfield, just a tad too close to their own goal. A couple of these turned into threats from Sweden that Naeher ably handled.

While Heath was great and played the whole game, Lavalle was the star of the first half. And to be honest, sometimes I think the defenders don't get the credit they deserve -- both Crystal Dunn and Kelly O'Hara did outstanding jobs, grabbing balls away from Sweden, flicking tricky headers to their teammates, and in Dunn's case, making precisely the right slide tackle to push the ball away from speedy forwards. This back line (Sauerbraun, Dahlkemper, O'Hara, and Dunn) has not yet been tested through an entire world cup, but they appear to be coming together like the 2015 back line, and it's that kind of defense that is going to be required to win this cup.


I was alone at the game and forgot to take a selfie, so here's a picture of the statue of Le geant et l'enfant, situated just past the Cap de la Heve.

Oh heck, and I might as well show you what the area looks like ...

And in other games:

  • China 0, Spain 0
  • Germany 4, South Africa 0
  • France 1, Nigeria 0
  • Norway 2, South Korea 1
  • Brazil 1, Italy 0
  • Australia 4, Jamaica 1
  • England 2, Japan 0
  • Scotland 3, Argentina 3
  • Cameroon 2, New Zealand 1
  • Canada 1, Netherlands 2
  • Chile 2, Thailand 0

Monday, June 17, 2019

Live from Paris: It's USA versus Chile

The Americans have invaded Paris!  At least that's what it looked like all over the streets of Paris. There were red, white and blue attired children and adults; there were red USA jerseys, white USA jerseys, black 2015 Women's World Cup jersey's. And there were deely-boppers and glitter and headbands, and scarves, and face paint. Yes, the Americans had most definitely invaded Paris for their game 2 of the Women's World Cup.

I don't know how many noticed it, but even the boats floating around the pond in Luxembourg garden were adorned with the flags of the world cup teams. And yes, the Americans had invaded the gardens as well.
There is something wonderful about the women's world cup (that is different from how I remember the men's world cup). If you're wearing something that identifies you as team USA, random people will stop and talk to you. You'll exchange locales, how long you're in the country, how many games you'll catch, what you thought of the last game, etc. It's a joyful celebration. And there are kids -- LOTS of them -- not just the young girls adorned in the shirts of their heroines, but young boys, who haven't been jaded to think that only men's soccer "counts," as well.

My  seats for this game were quite different, providing an entirely different perspective on the game.
I wouldn't say they were worse, they were just different: great view of the field, out of the blistering sun for the first half and the last quarter. Had it been the Thailand game, they would have been the perfect seats to see the 10 second-half goals.

The USA started with a lineup that differed almost entirely from game 1. The only returning players to the starting lineup were: Alyssa Naeher (goalie), Julie Ertz, Lindsay Horan, and Abby Dahlkemper. By the end of the game, Ellis (coach) had ensured that every field player on the roster had gotten field time.

Even with a different lineup, the first half felt a lot like the Thailand game. First goal, right after the 10 minute mark: beautiful Carli Lloyd volley. Second goal, after about 20 minutes. And around 30 minutes in, Lloyd scored her second of the day. On the other hand, Chile looked to be playing a bit more aggressively than had Thailand. They were sliding to knock balls away from their fleet-footed opponents and they were able to put together better pass sequences, although the USA backline continued to do an outstanding job simply shutting down every attack.

The second half, however, looked nothing like the Thailand game. There were some spectacular plays and outstanding shots on goal, but Chile's keeper, Christiane Endler, was unbeatable. In fact, think about this: The USA beat Chile, 3-0, and Endler was named player of the match -- it was that spectacular. And this was the end where we were sitting, so there was some fabulous action. I forgot to take my traditional game selfie with Nandita Vijaykumar, who accompanied me to the game, so here's a selfie at Luxembourg garden instead!

And, in other games:
  • Italy 5, Jamaica 0
  • England 1, Argentina 0
  • Japan 2, Scotland 1
  • Netherland 2, Cameroon 1
  • Canada 2, New Zealand 0
  • Sweden 5, Thailand 1

Friday, June 14, 2019

Live from Paris: It's China versus South Africa

I hadn't initially bought tickets for this game, but a friend had extras and since I was already in Paris playing tourist, it seemed like the right thing to do.

China had already lost a 1-0 game to Germany, and South Africa had lost a 3-1 game to Spain.

It was a gorgeous night in Paris - after two days of on and off again rain, it was clear and warm (fortunately, since I had a pile of laundry drying and had only shorts left to wear). The game got off to a somewhat slow start -- neither team looked particularly strong. The ball changed feet a lot. Although the teams felt quite well matched, the ball spent a lot of time in the South African end.

In fact, it wasn't until the end of the half that the 0-0 stalemate was broken by a spectacular sliding plunge by China star Li Ying in the 40th minute. The South African sweeper (Janine Van Wyk) had been doing a fantastic job clearing balls from the box -- she is super fast and an awesome defender and appeared to be an effective captain. The goal cam with Van Wyk on the ball, but Li slding in to poke it into the goal -- stunning and beautiful.

South Africa came out strong in the second half. They demonstrated terrific ball possession and an ability to move the ball around, dominating the first half of the second half. Their speedy strikers, Ode Fulutilu and Thembi Kgatlana, got the crowd excited a number of times, but they were unable to convert. And then in the last five to ten minutes, China seemed to up their game to an entirely new level zipping the ball back and forth up and down the field, placing passes at teammates' feet -- it looked like a whole new game.

End result: China 1, South Africa 0.

Next up for me: USA v Chile in Paris! (Sunday)

Gratuitous Selfie

In other games:

  • Nigeria 2, South Korea 0
  • Germany 1, Spain 0
  • France 2, Norway 1
  • Australia 3, Brazil 2 (upset -- worth the read!)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Live From Reims, it's USA versus Thailand.

Perhaps the most stunning thing about this game was that although it was in a tiny stadium Stade Auguste Delaune and they had sold out all the tickets, the 21,000+ stadium only had 18,000+ fans in attendance. OK, so the outcome wasn't too much in question, but Reims is only 45 minutes outside of Paris, and from what I saw on the train, many Americans had made the trip.

In any case, the atmosphere was charged and it was exciting to see the US Women take the field for their opening match. It didn't take long for the US to demonstrate that they were here to play and score goals. In the fourth minute, reminiscent of the opener, the US had a goal called back, due to an offsides. However, by the 12th minute Alex Morgan had seen to that and put one up on the board.

It is tough to compare the US team with the French team, since they had different opponents, but I have to say, while the US were clearly dominating, they did not look as sharp as the French -- the long balls into the box were not quite as precise. However, there was a fluidity to their play that was different from the French. I continue to anticipate what might be the best game of the tournament in the quarter final ...

Anyway, back to the US. One of my favorite players, Rose Lavelle, the lithe, quick, and magically footed midfielder looked dangerous from the beginning, so it was pleasantly satisfying to see her put in goal number two. By the 33rd minute, Lindsay Horan had also found the back of the net, which took the US women into halftime up 3-0, as the French had done.

The second half was an entirely different game. Quite honestly, there were so many goals in so short a time (10 goals in 45 minutes) that it was hard to keep track. I believe we ended up wit a total of five for Morgan, braces (2) for LaValle and Mewis, and one each for Push, Horan, Rapinoe and Lloyd. It's worth noting that Lloyd came in relatively early in the half (for LaVelle), Pugh for Julie Ertz (which seemed like an odd substitution until Horan came back for some time as defending midfielder), and then Press for Tobin Heath.

And this match's gratuitous selfie:

It turns out that we were sitting in the Thailand section, so after the game, we had the honor of cheering for the courageous Thailand women who never gave up, even in the face of the US onslaught. Their two speedy forwards continued to make attacking runs, annoy the defenders, and do whatever they could to try to erase that 0. I can only imagine how exhausted the defense was -- I was reminded of Bruiser Karen Bowen's, "I feel like a cone." response to our first ever appearance in the California State Cup tournament (where the nascent Bruisers played the top team in Northern California).

Next up is South Africa versus China in Paris on Thursday.

And in other matches:

  • England 2, Scotland 1

  • Canada 1, Cameron 0
  • Argentina 0, Japan 0

  • Netherlands 1, New Zealand 0
  • Sweden 2, Chile 0

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The FIFA Museum

TL;DR. It's not worth the 24 Swiss Francs it cost me.

Bad news: You can't carry even a tiny  backpack with you.
Good news: I got to leave mine here:

The place is quite high tech and lots of glass and large (and I mean large) screens on the walls, so it looks spiffy. But, it turns out to be really small. I had been wondering what one would find in a FIFA museum, and the answer is, "not much." Ah well ... the first floor has, I believe, two displays. The centerpiece is a representation of all the FIFA members, represented by their (men's) team shirts, organized by color. Now, this is visually appealing, but does make it rather tricky  to find any particular country, unless you already know their color, in which case, why do you want to see their shirt? It seemed like form over substance.

Then they had a wall with a brief history of FIFA. I was relieved to see that they included the women's world cups and saddened to see just how recently the  women's U-## tournaments were created.

Next, you go downstairs. It looks large, but the main room is actually tiny -- just bracketed by mirrors. There was a display called "Foundations" that was so uninteresting I don't remember anything about it (six hours later). Then they had a "FIFA World Cup Gallery." Yes, there was a tiny women's world cup portion to it, with some cool things.
This is the display for the 1999 Women's World Cup Winners This is the display for the 2003 final (Germany)

I found these two displays kind of cool for a couple of reasons. First, the scurry gloves are totally cool. Second, I happen to know where the gloves are that could have gone in the 2003 display. If I didn't hate FIFA so much, I might even have thought to donate them (although the only proof I have of their authenticity is the photograph of Silke Rottenberg and the little boy who got those gloves). You should all be delighted to know that since that little boy is pretty grown up, they are now in the hands (no pun intended) of a young woman who plays goalie for a pretty talented futsal team.

The actual world cup (or one of them) is on display, but it seems that the women's world cup trophy was absent.

I can forgive them for that. However, what I cannot forgive them for is making me sit through a movie about "World Cup Finals" that had precisely 0 minutes dedicated to the women. We got to see all sorts of men diving (as well as some beautiful plays), but really, it's 2019 FIFA -- you've had a women's world cup for over 25 years and you can't put together a few minutes of coverage? This completely infuriated me.

The rest of the museum, only accessible if you sit through the movie, has displays on soccer balls through the ages, turf through the ages, and a collection of digital tournament books: precisely three for the women and something like 8 for the men (there have been eight women's world cups, including the current one, which they had). They also had a gallery of games. The third floor was just a fake -- it got you to their gift shop and cafe.

So, I did manage to spend about an hour and a half at the museum, but I left angry  and disappointed. Get your act together FIFA.

Women's World Cup 2019! Welcome to France.

Every four years I treat myself to the Women's World Cup -- it started with a match, then a final, then a trip to Germany, then nearly an entire month in Canada (and look how that ended up), and now an entire month in Europe for this year's installment. I will try to diligently blog this year as I did four years ago.

This years Coupe du Monde Feminine is in France, specifically: Paris, Reims, Le Havre, Lyon, Valenciennes, Rennes, Montpelier, Grenoble, and Nice. Unsurprisingly, the opening match, which always features the host team, was in Paris. So, on June 7, I found myself in Paris, joyfully sharing the experience with Mike and Teresa Olson of Berkeley, Charles River Soccer teammate, Dawn Tesorero, and Dawn's friend and mentee, Madeline (Maddy) Hernstrom-Hill.

The Paris games are all being played in Les Parc du Princes, home of Paris Saint-Germain. It is located just outside the Peripherie (the ring around Paris -- think something like I-95 around Boston, assuming that the entire Metropolitan area inside were all Boston) at about 8:00. I chose a hotel that was about a half hour walk away; Mike and Teresa has one about 10 minutes away (8 to be precise), and Dawn and Maddy opted for something closer to all the sites (a 45 minute metro ride). We all descended on Porte de St. Cloud for dinner and ticket exchange, and a joyful toast to Paris, the World Cup, old friends, and anything else that we felt warranted a drink.

Our goal was to hit the stadium for the opening ceremony at 8:30 and we thought we would have plenty of time getting to the stadium around 8:00. After all, how long can it take to enter a stadium? Quite some time as it turns out ... we got through the gates at precisely 8:30 and after some confusion regarding the gender-based lines for searching and frisking (I cannot imagine how a non-binary soccer fan would have experienced this; the word uncomfortable comes to mind, putting it mildly; also four lines for men to two lines for women for a freaking WOMEN'S WORLD CUP????).

Nonetheless, we got to our seats as the field was being transformed for the opening and we were seated right next to the place where all the performers came into the stadium. That was the good news; the bad news was that the show was mostly directed at the bigwigs across the field, so we never got to see the front of the cool city signs that beefy young men carried via fancy "backpacks."


  The opening ceremony was a high-energy, joyful performance, featuring a large number of dancing young women, representing all the teams in the tournament. 

And then, of course, the match! It was France versus South Korea. While France was expected to win (they were a 2-goal favorite), none of the pre-match analysis prepared the crowd for the dazzling performance of the French. Not only did they dominate their guests, but they displayed speed and precision that was breathtaking. Even before her tenth minute goal, Le Sommer, made her presence known - there were at least three plays that were close enough to goals to elicit the collective gasp or groan of the 45,000 assembled fans. Finally in minute ten, she got one in -- not just a goal, but a pretty goal.

The rest of the half continued in a similar fashion -- quick runs up the field by French players and crosses from the wings dropped in front of the goal with laser-like precision. One particularly beautiful play to zippy center back Griedge Mbock Bathy ended with the ball in the net, but FIFA's VAR (virtual assistant referee) technology, which they used in last year's world cup, showed that she was offsides by the tiniest of margins. It was the right call and in prior world cups would have been counted -- in this case, the VAR did not affect the outcome of the game, but my prediction is that it certainly will before the tournament is over.

So with that goal called back, it was Wendie Renard, stalwart defender, who broke the game open. She is quite tall and France's secret weapon (or not so secret it would seem) on set plays. Her first goal came off a gorgeous cross and there wasn't really much for the Korean goalie to do. And then, at the very end of stoppage time, there was a repeat performance instants before the whistle, taking the French into halftime with a 3-0 lead.

And just to show that I am really quite terrible at the selfie, here is the gratuitous halftime selfie, with Mike and Teresa (who have mastered this art form way  better than I have!)

The second half saw similar domination -- Korea's first shot on goal didn't occur until the 78th minute! And then, captain Amandine Henry, made it 4-0 with a gorgeous, curling shot in the 85th minute that entered the goal just on the correct side of the far post.

Even though there was never a question about the outcome, it was a fun game to watch. The French women are dazzling in their speed and precision and look like a pretty formidable opponent. If the tournament goes according to plan, they could meet the USA in the quarter final in Paris on June 28; should it come to pass (i.e., both teams win their bracket and their round-of-16 match) that will be a match for the ages (and unfortunate that it happens so early in the tournament.

And for those of you who do not follow the cup, but humor me by reading my blog:

Saturday's results were:
  • German 1, China 0
  • Norway 3, Nigeria 0
  • Spain 3, South Africa 1
Today's results so far are:
  • Italy 2, Australia 1 (upset)
  • Brazil 3, Jamaica 0
Up next: England versus Scotlant