Updated: Jan 1, 2020
June 16: Matchday 10
Sweden 5 – 1 Thailand
Sweden get the three points, as expected, and pretty easily in the process. This group is very strange, with both of the big teams having faced incredibly weak opposition in their first two games. Everyone else is a week or more into a serious tournament, while the US and Sweden are still out there on the training ground. I don’t know if that will end up mattering, but it’s certainly peculiar.
Sweden will be happy to see some of their important attackers open their accounts, and in convincing fashion as well. They ‘only’ got five (and the fifth was a literal last-second VAR handball penalty). But there were a couple very nice goals in the mix.
Again, it’s Thailand, so don’t read too much into into, but for a Swedish side that often looks ponderous despite having a lot of theoretical firepower, a few nice goals are a good segue into their big match against the US. They’ll be much happier with their first half performance, but even the second half saw a few very nice moves – especially the 4th goal which was just about the perfect example of how to create space out wide and then execute a thumping header.
For Thailand, this was another frustrating game, but one with some genuine positives to take away. They put up far more opposition this time around – actually making some threatening attacks, and doing a bit more to disrupt play, especially in the second half. And they were rewarded with a genuinely deserved goal at the end.
The first half was better than last time, but still exhibited many of the fundamental problems that had plagued them against the US: physical deficiencies and a lack of technique, combined with a frankly bizarre approach to the game. Repeatedly, they lingered on the ball and were dispossessed, or tried a low percentage pass which obviously went awry, rather than a safer play that would have allowed them to regroup a bit. It genuinely seemed to me like they were a team that had never faced opposition that were better than them, and how no idea how to adapt. They were continuing to play like you would against inferior opponents, and then getting stomped by Sweden when it didn’t come off.
It may have been the halftime talk, nerves finally settling a bit, or something else, but when they came out for the second half they finally looked like the team we had expected going into the tournament. Still the worse team in many ways, but with a far more coherent approach to the game. The defensive shape was more solid, covering players started backing up the first line of defense, and they even started winning some tackles. And when they got the ball, there was a bit more clarity, with players starting to pick their heads up and assess, rather than dribbling into a sea of Swedish defenders or sending an aimless pass away to no one.
Dropping Miranda Nild into the midfield made a big difference here. She wasn’t a particularly good defender one-on-one, but she did a lot to occupy space. And she got much more time on the ball – where she was a critical calming presence. The same can be said of Silawan Intamee, who put in a real shift today, and did a huge amount to buy her team some breathing room. And of course the goal-scorer Kanjana Sung-Ngoen, who kept making those runs all game, and was finally rewarded at the end.
I’m now thoroughly invested in the Thailand Redemption Arc, so I hope their final match against Chile is at least competitive. If they can play like they did in the second half, it should be.
USA 3 – 0 Chile
This was another dominant performance from the United States. They scored 10 fewer goals, but a huge part of that is the difference between an almost impossibly bad goalkeeping performance in the Thailand game and an almost impossibly good performance from Christiane Endler today. Chile also put up sterner opposition, of course, but with a different keeper this could easily have been 7-0 or even worse.
The US made a whole host of changes, and with the substitutions, they’ve now given minutes to every single field player, which is a major change from past iterations of the team. Several of the new additions did very well. I’m not sure anyone did enough to play themselves into the starting XI, especially given how much Ellis tends to lock herself into place on that front.
But this game certainly demonstrated that the US can handle some necessary rotation in the frontline. Christen Press was phenomenal out wide, which actually isn’t anything new – she’s really grown into the wide role a lot in the past couple years. But this was maybe the best she’s played there, and a clear demonstration that she can be a fantastic creative force out wide, as well as a serious goal-scoring threat. If not for Endler standing on her head, Press would have had a brace, maybe more. In the middle, Carli Lloyd got two goals and was once again dangerous. It didn’t seem like she was really up for 90 minutes at full throttle, but it remains abundantly clear that Lloyd is not here as a token gesture. She remains a deadly player in the attack who will absolutely contribute going forward. And then there’s Jess McDonald, who earned her first World Cup minutes, and nearly got a goal in the process. McDonald’s story is truly wonderful, and I hope to discuss it more in a piece coming later.
Further back, Morgan Brian looked good, and even more important: she seemed to grow into the game. Her first half was fine, but her second half was truly impressive. With Ertz lifted, Brian occupied a deeper holding role, and did so with distinction, controlling play, spraying passes, and generally making it impossible for Chile to do much of anything on the rare occasions when they got the ball. It’s been a long, hard road back for Brian, but she’s here, and showed today that it’s not just a legacy thing. She played very well. And you could tell a similar story about Ali Krieger, who seemed far far away from the national team just a few months ago. But tonight she played 90 minutes and more than held her own in the process.
So what is there to ultimately make of all this? Well, to be completely honest, probably not that much. All we really learned is that the B team is also excellent, and they all appear to be primed to contribute whenever they’re called on. That’s hugely important, but it’s not really news. Beyond that, the US thoroughly outplayed Chile, surprising no one. But the unfortunate reality is that these were more training senses than true matches. The next five games are the real World Cup, and until we see how the US fares in higher stakes matches, we can’t really say anything for sure.
Before the tournament I tweeted:
I know so much more about women’s soccer today than I did four years ago, by many orders of magnitude. But it’s still drops in an ocean compared to how much is potentially out there. So excited to keep learning over the next month. — Charles Olney (@olneyce) June 6, 2019
I was thinking about that today, and celebrating just how much I’ve learned over the course of this tournament. How many names that were entirely unfamiliar but who are now on the tip of my tongue. How many teams I now understand far better. How many stories I have now heard.
And then multiply by by a thousand, by ten thousand, by a million. How many people before today knew about Endler? And how many more will now remember this performance forever? Think about how many games Kanjana Sung-Ngoen has played in her career, how many goals she’s scored, that went almost entirely unnoticed. And then think about how many people around the world celebrated with her today.
And then think about just how much more there still is for all of us to learn.
It’s truly wonderful to be a part of it. I hope you’re all enjoying it as much as me.
China – Spain. This will be a really tricky one. Both are on three points and are just about through, no matter the result. But a 2-0 or 3-0 could still leave them potentially vulnerable to being overtaken for that last 3rd place slot. The additional complicating factor is that it’s almost certainly preferable to finish 3rd in this group rather than second. The runner-up will probably play the US, while the 3rd place team will play someone much worse. Spain are currently ‘winning’ the tiebreaker, so a draw would leave them second. Top-level teams are never going to throw a game, but it can certainly influence tactical setup. Basically, expect China to play for an aggressive 0-0 draw.
South Africa – Germany. South Africa are all but eliminated, and Germany are virtually certain to finish top of the group. Germany need at least a point here to ensure they don’t get stuck playing the US, so they’re not going to take it easy, but I don’t expect a full-scale assault. This feels like a comfortable 2-0 to Germany.
Nigeria – France. A point would guarantee Nigeria a spot in the knockout stage, while a narrow loss would leave them in decent shape, but needing results elsewhere to go their way. On sheer quality, France should win this comfortably. But they don’t need much from this game and several of their key players are banged up, so will probably rest. That could give Nigeria some space.
South Korea – Norway. South Korea are all but eliminated and would to win by 2 or 3 goals to even have a chance. That’s unlikely, though certainly not impossible. But more realistically, they’re playing for pride here. On the other side, Norway could lose this game and still probably finish second, though they obviously prefer to win and lock that down.
I’ll be in Le Havre to see China v. Spain. I hope it’s fascinating, though I fear it will be a tedious 0-0 where no one does much of anything. Either way, it will likely determine who the US plays in the round of 16 so from an American perspective it will certainly be worth watching.