Rounding out my World Cup Pentathelon, I hit the fifth of six cities hosting World Cup games late Friday morning, arriving in Ottawa. Becks arrived an hour later and we made it to our hotel, which boasted both a nice workout facility and a fantastic pool. I took to the pool for the exercises that I had not done in a very very long time.
France versus Germany
The USA game was at 7:30, but France was playing Germany at 4:00, so we wandered stadium-wards and found a restaurant/bar with decent food and a good TV and most importantly, a table right in front of the TV. My initial reaction to the game was, "I feel less bad about how the US is playing watching these two." I had been expecting excellence from both sides, but they both started out pretty weak. After the first ten minutes or so, France started putting together a nice controlled game, and, in my opinion, dominated the remaining 80 minutes. They controlled the pace of the game and had the better opportunities. And true to form, in minute 64, Necib found the back of the net -- France 1-0! For the next 20-ish minutes, I was convinced France had it, and then ... a French handball in the box, a penalty kick, and in minute 83 it was a tie game!
Sure enough, that tie persisted until the final whistle, leading to two 15 minute overtimes. The tides started turning a bit in overtime -- both teams were noticeably tired (who wouldn't be), and Germany started keeping better possession. One fifteen minute period... still 1-1. A second fifteen minute perios ... still 1-1. Oh no ... the worst way to end matches ever: a penalty kick shootout. What a terrible, terrible way to determine the outcome of a match.
Each team gets 5 kicks, alternating.
After first kicks, 1-1.
After second kicks, 2-2.
After third kick, 3-3.
(Are you seeing a pattern here?)
After the fourth kick, 4-4.
And after the fifth kick ... 5-4 ...
I was sad; I thought Les Blues deserved to win.
USA v China
We hopped on a bus full of USA fans and headed to the stadium, where we had terrific
seats about ten yards off of midfield. The crowd was largely American with several
large Chinese contingents, including one behind us.
I don't think I've mentioned this before, but since the women are playing on turf (an entirely separate conversation; FIFA has been so sexist it's not even funny). Anyway, to cool the turf down, they have had these zamboni-like machines water the turf before the game and at half time. Well, it appears that Ottawa didn't warrant one of the zamboni-like machines, so before the game (and at half time), they had two lines of volunteers wielding enormous hoses with which they watered the field. It was adorable.
As you may recall, Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe were out for the quarterfinal thanks to their second yellow cards against Colombia. So, the question on everyone's minds was, "Who plays where?" Coach Elis put Morgan Brian in at holding midfield (freeing Carli Lloyd to wander more), Kelly O'Hara at wing half (moving Tobin Heath to the left), and Amy Rodriguez up top, replacing Abby and giving us some real bursts of speed. From the opening whistle, it was a team quite different from the one we have seen so far in this tournament. The Chinese came out playing a controlled passing game; the USA came out running -- putting pressure on the ball, moving it up the field, connecting passes between the midfield and the forward line. O'Hara and Rodriguez seemed particularly in sync and Brian played significantly better than in her last game. It was exhilarating. Within the first couple of minutes, Rodriguez had a terrific opportunity that she took with the outside of her foot, sending it wide of the goal. After ten or fifteen minutes, the USA seemed to take the pressure off just a touch, but they continued to play well -- connecting all three lines of play and creating dangerous opportunities.
Although both teams were possessing well, the styles of the two teams couldn't be more different. The Chinese move the ball with passes -- usually short quick passes up the field. The USA moves the ball with individual dribbling effort. Both teams could improve by incorporating more of their opponent's tactics. The Chinese could use some dribblers and the Americans would do well to sometimes have their forwards play with their backs to the goal, passing back to the midfield who can then join in the attack. Our midfielders do this well with the back line, but the forwards do not seem to use the midfielders in the same way and I think they would be a bit more dangerous if they incorporated this into their play.
Although the USA seemed to have the game under their control, the scoreboard remained unpleasantly vacant -- 0-0 at halftime.
It seems that Abby Wambach gave the team strict instructions to score within the first ten minutes of the second half, and when Abby says, "Do," the team does. So two minutes into the second half, Julie Johnston set up a perfect play for Carli Lloyd who sent the ball into the back of the net with authority. The crowd went wild!
I was sure that there were more goals to follow, but there were not. Perhaps Abby should have been more clear, "Score a lot of goals; the first within the first ten minutes." There were subs -- Christen Press came in about 2/3 of the way through the match, replacing Kelly O'hara, in the 81st minute, Heather O'Reily came in (yeay! I'd been wearing her pink breaker's shirt to every game), pushing Press up top and replacing Alex Morgan, and in the 86th minute, Abby came in for Rodriguez, who I thought played a great game. It was a bit disheartening that all the cheers were for Abby coming in rather than the good game Rodriguez had.
And that was how we ended the game: 1-0 USA! Not a huge win in terms of number of goals, but a huge win, in terms of A) importance and B) quaity of play. Assuming our defense can continue to deliver, our midfielders remember how to play with the forwards, and our forwards place the ball in the net, I think we can beat Germany. They were not at their best against France, and they had a longer, tougher game. It should be a wonderful match in Montreal!
Japan versus Australia
Sunday, we headed out to a nearby sports bar to watch the next Quarterfinal match on a big screen. It took a solid five minutes for Japan to settle into its rhythm. But settle they did and while Japan played their hallmark short-passing controlled game, Australia did not seem to settle down into any sort of rhythm at all. While Japan created many opportunities, Australia had relatively few -- but those were more likely to be on frame. While Japan attacked with numbers, dribbling and passes, Australia attacked with long flanking runs. It was looking like another match was going to go into overtime until the 87th minute, a mad scramble in front of the goal, including a save that the goalie didn't hold onto, left Iwabuchi, the sub for Japan's striker Ohno, free to send a short ball into the net. It was Japan 1-0, with only a few minutes left. Australia wasn't any more successful in the final minutes than they'd been in the first 86, so the game concluded at 1-0 Japan. In my opinion, the right team won.
Canada versus England
This was England's first time in the Quarter finals and Canada's second, but first time since 2003. For the first ten minutes, I thought Canada had the upper hand -- they were moving the ball well, and Sinclair looked alive, creating opportunities. Tancredi had a beautiful opportunity in those opening minutes, but she sent it over the cross bar. This missed opportunity was going to come back and haunt them -- repeatedly! In the 11th minute, a defensive error by Sesselman, left Australia wide open in front of the goal, and McLeod didn't have a chance to stop the perfectly placed shot by Taylor.
This combination of a mistake and an opposing goal clearly flustered the Canadians. Only three minutes later, Bronze sent a parabolic ball into the net. McLeod immediately gathered her team together, and who knows what she said, but Canada settled down. Down two goals, they had a tough hill to climb.
Shortly after, Tancredi had another great opportunity off a Schmidt free kick, but once again, she put it over the cross bar. As the first half wound down, it looked like it was going to be a 2-0 halftime score, but a cross by Lawrence somehow escaped from the goalie's hands, and Sinclair pounced on the opportunity, sliding it past the keeper and into the net! Huge, huge, huge, huge goal to take the teams into halftime at 2-1 rather than 2-0.
Taylor continued to make McLeod earn her keep, and Tancredi continued to have reasonable opportunities in front of goal that she continued to shoot out of frame. It was frustrating. Canada could have tied it or even won the match, but it simply wasn't meant to be. While there were opportunities and several great opportunities, at the final whistle, it was still 2-1.
It is sad to see Canada leave the tournament -- this is, in many ways, their World Cup, and the crowds were looking forward to more games for them. I predict a pretty light and quiet crowd in Edmonton for the Japan/England semifinal. USA/Germany in Montreal will be quite different!