Women’s World Cup Daily: June 23
Updated: Jan 1
Round of 16, Day 2
England 3 – 0 Cameroon
I have to admit that I don’t have the emotional energy to provide a ton of commentary on this game. There was just too damn much going on.
Obviously, the major story was the refereeing, and Cameroon’s response. At several points they seemed on the verge of literally walking off the field. At others they were pointing at the big screen insistent that it proved them right, when it very much did not. And the fouls…oh dear, all the fouls.
So rather than trying to digest it all, I will split my comments into a few bullet points, first on the match itself and then on the meta-match.
1. England played exceptionally well in the opening 20 minutes, and showed in that period why they should be considered legitimate contenders.
2. England played like garbage in the next thirty minutes, and showed why they could easily lose to Norway in the quarterfinals.
3. That said, I don’t think you can draw too many conclusions from this match about England’s future prospects. They’re not going to play anyone like this again, and they certainly won’t play through this kind of chaos, or deal with the emotional thunderstorms of this game. England looked completely lost for much of the early second half, but you can understand why. At least Cameroon had anger to focus their attention. England had to stand around for long periods just feeling bewildered.
4. Cameroon did very well to execute their plan. They got beat – badly, and repeatedly – in the midfield, but their defenders were fantastic as stepping up to clear up the messes before they had a chance to explode. They posed a real threat on the counter, and could easily have scored a couple. But in the end it was always going to take a huge amount of luck, and they didn’t get it. The other events of the game will overshadow it, but they did about as well as you could reasonably expect in this game.
1. Cameroon’s players absolutely lost their cool, and it was to their own detriment. None of the calls were wrong, even if they were extremely frustrating. Emotions were riding high, but it would have been good if they and/or their coaches had been able to pull things back a bit quicker than they did. It’s also not great to accuse the officials of rigging the game against you, especially when the calls were all correct, albeit close.
2. That said, they did rein things in pretty quick. As noted above, it was England who looked the most out of sorts for quite a while in the second half. Cameroon played better in the second half, even with what must have been a thousand volts of adrenaline running through them.
3. We also need to talk about the larger story here. Many of these players live on the margins of professional soccer. As much as emotions ride high in an event like the men’s World Cup, there are some relatively cushy fallbacks for players. Here, not so much. The stakes are enormous.
4. It also has to be said that the referee bears some of the blame for this. Once again, the communication was poor. The various VAR referrals were not well explained. And those things can build. Once you feel that the system is rigged, you will be even less inclined to listen the next time. It also seems to me that she genuinely felt bad for Cameroon and wanted to let them vent. But at a certain point, it just meant that the game fell completely out of her control.
5. Broadening the scope even more, as with our conversation about Nigeria yesterday, it is extraordinarily frustrating how people seem to be unable or unwilling to see how their depiction of black athletes can contribute to racial stereotyping in extremely harmful ways. That’s not an excuse for bad behavior, of course, but it’s absolutely a reason to seriously interrogate our assumptions of what counts as ‘bad’ behavior, and what interests are served by policing it in that way.
6. To wrap this up, I absolutely don’t think that Cameroon covered themselves in glory today, and I certainly think it’s necessary for there to be genuine and serious criticism of some of the things they did. Not just the reactions to the refereeing decisions, but also the rough play, the spitting, etc. But the choice about how to engage in that criticism is an important one. Far too many people today leapt to outrage. Far too few took any time to consider the context. And that ultimately may end up being far worse for the world than anything the Cameroon players did.
White people pathologizing black people and then using that to dismiss them as legitimate competitors is a whole lot worse for children than some players being too emotional in a soccer game. — Charles Olney (@olneyce) June 23, 2019
France 2 – 1 Brazil (aet)
France certainly did not look like the tournament co-favorite that we all have been calling them. They managed only a handful of shots on goal over the course of the whole game, and struggled mightily to create any sort of dangerous attacking moves. The whole night, they focused almost exclusively on attacking with width and then sending in crosses. But their delivery was generally poor, and on the few occasions that Gauvin could get her head to the ball, it didn’t produce much.
There was one exception in the first half – an opening goal which was disallowed on review by VAR. To my eyes it was a good goal, and should have been allowed to stand. Who knows if that lead might have changed things. But it wasn’t allowed, and so it took until the 52nd minute before Gauvin got her goal. For once, instead of simply reaching the end line and then immediately sending in the cross, Diani chose to cut inward, beating a defender and giving herself less distance to cover with her cross, and a better angle. This time, the goal stood, and France had their lead.
While Brazil didn’t exactly come roaring back, they did begin to pose a bit more of an attacking threat, often led by Debinha who I must (begrudgingly, given my past critiques) admit was Brazil’s player of the tournament, by a mile. She raced into the space left open by Torrent, the French right back, and left Bussaglia – who could theoretically have tracked her – in her dust. From there, a dangerous cross whipped in left Renard with little choice but to weakly tap a clearance down into the penalty area. The waiting Thaisa thanked her for the gift by burying her shot.
And that was it for regular time. France certainly pushed, and seemed like they might get the winner. They were helped by the departure of Formiga, both because it removed an intelligent player from the field, and because Brazil simply didn’t have a similar replacement. Andressinha is a nice player, but simply can’t do the defensive work to control a midfield. France responded by bringing on Thiney, restoring their traditional 4-2-3-1, and finally started to look more like the France that was dominant earlier in the tournament. And yet…they couldn’t find their goal.
But finally, in extra time, the dam started to crack. France began pouring on the pressure. They brought in Delphine Cascarino who provided a breath of fresh air, and the pace out wide that had been missing. And it was only a matter of time. Eventually, it was (who else) Amandine Henry that actually delivered the winning goal. And for all of the good work Brazil put in over 120 minutes, it’s impossible to say it wasn’t deserved.
France weren’t good today. But they were good enough.
And so the fated showdown between the US and France remains on track. If the US can indeed win tomorrow, the last piece will be in place. And it will all come together this Friday, at the Parc des Princes. On the evidence of the tournament so far, the US will be favored, but I’d be very careful to avoid overinterpreting recent results. This France team had a rough day today, but they remain incredibly good. And unlike the US, they will come into the game having already faced some serious challenges. That could make them more fragile. But it could also make them more resilient. Only time will tell.
I am in England for the next few days (see the image featured above for evidence). I was hoping to catch the England game today in a pub with locals, but sadly wasn’t able to find anywhere with much excitement for the game. The tournament is doing good business up here, by all accounts, but I couldn’t find much evidence of it in town. But I’ll continue to poke around and see what I can find.