Updated: Jan 1, 2020
June 15: Matchday 9
Netherlands 3 – 1 Cameroon
This was an ugly, ugly game. Lots of fouls, poor refereeing, plenty of bizarre unexplained stoppages, along with poor touches and poor tackles from just about everyone. It did produce four goals, three of which were nicely worked, and remained close for most of the game. For those reasons, I’ve seen it described as one of the more exciting games in the tournament. But let’s be real folks, this was a terrible game of soccer.
In their first game, the Dutch were reasonably good but couldn’t finish. This time around they were very bad, but were able to finish. I suppose it more or less comes out in the wash, but if I were a Dutch fan I’d be extremely worried about this team. To be more precise, here’s a complete list of players who played well today:
This team is ridiculously talented, but at the moment they look about as weak as you can reasonably imagine them looking. Now, they have still managed to acquire six points from six, so maybe it’s just a case of a good team powering through a slow start. But at least so far, we haven’t seen anything remotely like the dazzling side that ripped apart their opponents two years ago in the Euros.
The backline is a major worry. It was a known concern going into the tournament, but has been even worse than expected. Anouk Dekker returned to the starting XI today after serving her suspension, but only brought more chaos, giving the ball away several times in incredibly dangerous areas for no particular reason. Bloodworth scored, but was off the pace all day and was often out of position.
But it’s more than just the defense. The whole team just looked bad today. They couldn’t connect simple passes. Their touch was bad. They weren’t reading the game well. And despite some significant athletic advantages over Cameroon, they were pushed around quite a bit.
To some extent, this might be an officiating issue, with a referee who failed to keep a grip on the game. But this didn’t feel like China v. Germany, where the overall combativeness was in service of some larger tactical agenda. This was just a very snippy game that didn’t need to be.
For Cameroon, they were realistically never going to get much from two games against Canada and the Dutch. To hold their goal difference to just -3 over those two matches absolutely gives them a fighting chance. Beat New Zealand and they’ll be in the running for a berth in the knockout round.
Canada 2 – 0 New Zealand
An exceptionally dull game, defined by one team that was entirely willing to let the other side attack, and an opposition that probed and probed and probed and probed, but lacked the technical ability to produce much of anything in the process. Canada did generate two goals, which is 100% more than I expected, so that does count for something. But this really just felt like exactly the result you’d expect from these two teams.
It was interesting to see Canada adapt fairly quickly. Once it became apparent just how deep New Zealand were going to set up – and that they were going to keep two forwards – coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller shifted his team shape significantly, dropping Schmidt into the central defense, allowing the fullbacks to operate as midfielders. They played most of the game in a 3-1-4-2, and were never really troubled in the process. It was a breath of fresh air in a tournament with exceptionally little tactical innovation.
For Canada, this was a job done. The results on the day do mean that they’ll need to beat the Netherlands to take top spot in the group, since the Dutch now hold the tiebreaker. But it’s not especially clear that it matters who wins the group – either way, you play a 2nd place team from another group in the round of 16. The only caveat here is that the runners-up could theoretically face the US if Sweden were to somehow beat them in the final game of the group stage, which is an eventuality you probably want to protect yourself from.
Canada remain a thoroughly limited team, but it’s hard to argue with results. No one much enjoys watching a team with talented players grind out results, but the reality is there just isn’t enough talent here to actually play some of the top teams in the tournament. So they’ve decided to lean into functionality, and hope for a thunderbolt now and again to generate a goal. It’s certainly worked so far, but we can see how it works against the Dutch before drawing any more conclusions.
– By my count, there were eight teams entering the tournament that felt like plausible title contenders. Of those, Australia and the Dutch have looked awful, Germany has struggled, Japan couldn’t do anything against Argentina and England only looked somewhat better. Canada has looked very professional and very dull, which seems to be their game plan, so we can call that a neutral result. But only the US and France have truly impressed.
I wouldn’t want to over-interpret the results from a tiny set of games, but it’s possible the two favorites deserve to be even heavier favorites than we once thought.
– I once again subjected myself to the Fox commentary for the Canada game and…it astonishes me that people being paid to talk about soccer on a major national broadcast can exhibit so little interest in actually describing what’s going on in the soccer game they’re ostensibly covering.
– As planned, I took the afternoon to wander around the Musée de l’Orangerie, which was really lovely. I’m a big fan of Monet, so the huge panels of water lilies were great, but I also really liked the other exhibits downstairs. Obviously, hit up the Louvre, Pompidou, and d’Orsay first, but if you have time for more, strong recommendation.
Sweden – Thailand. Based on their first game, no one will be expecting anything from Thailand. And while Sweden are not on the level of the US, they’re still quite good, so it’s quite likely we see another lopsided result. Still, Thailand were subjected to an epically bad goalkeeping performance last time, so if they change keepers (or remind Charoenying that she’s allowed to use her hands), it should be less of a bulldozing.
USA – Chile. See above. Unlike Thailand, Chile have a world class keeper, so will not give away goals nearly so cheaply. But it would be an epic shock if the US failed to win this game. Expect something on the order of 4-0. Maybe tighter, but also maybe much worse. The one big question is whether the US rotates, and if so, how much. Ellis doesn’t like doing it, but it’s a short tournament and probably would be wise.