Most people haven’t had the luxury of watching six hours of World Cup soccer every day for the last week and a half on ESPN. Too bad. You missed some great games!
Every sports cliché applies to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup which has just finished group play in Germany, with the elimination matches to begin this weekend. The winning teams were lucky. But winning teams make their own luck. Bad calls and non-calls by the referees are part of the game.
Half the 16 teams are out. Mexico is going home after tying both England (1-1) and New Zealand (2-2). New Zealand is going home because of heartbreaking one goal losses to England (1-2) and Japan (1-2). Nigeria is out because of one-goal losses to defending champion Germany (0-1) and France (0-1) despite beating Canada (1-0). Canada lost all three of its games but played tough against Germany (1-2), scoring on a beautiful free kick by Christine Sinclair, still playing after breaking her nose.
Both Colombia and North Korea were eliminated after losing by one goal to Sweden (0-1) and tying each other. Equatorial Guinea, the smallest country, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time ever, lost by one goal each to Norway (0-1) and Australia (2-3), and was eliminated despite impressive performances. Norway was the last team eliminated in a thriller with Australia which was 0-0 at the half. Norway scored first in the second half, but Australia scored second and third.
So on Saturday, undefeated England plays France in the quarterfinals at noon, and undefeated Germany plays Japan at 3 p.m. On Sunday, undefeated Sweden plays Australia at 7 a.m., and at 11:45 a.m. undefeated Brazil plays the United States, which suffered its only loss to Sweden (1-2) in the last round of group play.
When the United States hosted the men’s World Cup for the first time in 1994, I had never seen a soccer game, but decided to watch the final match to try to figure out what the rest of the world found so fascinating about soccer, which Americans seemed not to get at all. That match, played in the Rose Bowl, was a 0-0 tie between Brazil and Italy, with Brazil winning on penalty kicks. I thought it was the most boring thing I had ever seen in my life, and resolved never to waste time watching soccer again.
But then watching my daughter’s high school and club teams opened my eyes to “the beautiful game”, and I became a fan, just like the rest of the world. So I’m looking forward to more great games this weekend, and in the semi-finals on Wednesday, the consolation game next Saturday, and the final next Sunday. And next year, men’s and women’s soccer in the Olympics!