Updated: Jan 1, 2020
June 9: Matchday 3
Australia 1 – 2 Italy
This was among the wildest soccer games I have ever seen in person, and I was at one of the bonkers 5-4 games between Seattle and Sky Blue a couple years ago, so I know what a wild soccer game is like.
Australia came into the tournament as an exciting team with a chance to go far, but with a wretched defense and a lot of concerns about whether they could fix it. This game sure did not help to alleviate those concerns. Italy had the goal in the net in the opening fifteen minutes, only to have it disallowed on a very close offside call. This would definitely be a pattern.
Over the rest of the game, Australia’s high and ragged line was broken time and again by the quick Italian forwards, who raced in behind and laid waste to Lydia Williams’ goal. Time and again, those plays were called back on the offside rule. But the margins were often razor thin. Australia was clearly playing with fire, and eventually they got burned, with Italy pulling it back to 1-1 after a ghastly mistake from Claire Polkinghorne, who gave the ball away and then watched Barbara Bonansea put away the goal.
Unlike many games in this tournament, which have wilted pretty heavily in the second half, this one grew and multiplied, growing only more intense with every minute. First Australia threatened, then Italy came back. Lisa De Vanna nearly got sent off within fifteen minutes of subbing on. The Australians began falling over as soon as they entered the box, desperately hoping for a penalty.
In the end, it was Italy that found the winner, thanks to another dumb mistake from Australia, who needlessly conceded a set piece, and then watched helplessly as Sam Kerr backpedaled desperately and just missed clearing the ball, leaving Bonansea free at the back post to nod it in.
And the crowd erupted. And so did the Italian team.
My favorite was Girelli’s very genuine delight, when asked about Bonansea’s winner: “We were surprised because Barbara doesn’t usually score with her head. We were like ‘oh my god, what did you do?!'” — Charles Olney (@olneyce) June 9, 2019
Australia is still probably fine. They’ll be favorites in their other two games, and even a draw against Brazil wouldn’t kill them, since four points is effectively a guarantee to advance under this system. By the same token, Italy is now in very good shape. A result against Jamaica is by no means certain, but that would be sufficient to advance them to the knockout stage, a big deal for a team that hasn’t been to this tournament in two decades.
Brazil 3 – 0 Jamaica
All of us soccer experts managed to talk ourselves into believing that Jamaica could potentially pull this off, but it ended up a comfortable win that the casual fan always expected. There were many factors involved. Jamaica definitely looked like a team attending their first World Cup, with quite a few nerves getting in their way. They also struggled in the midfield, as expected, and played a slightly naïve system that pushed high too often and left them critically exposed. Only a showstopping performance from Sydney Schneider in goal kept them in the match for as long as they were.
For Brazil, this was obviously a nice performance and a great way to break a long losing streak. Jamaica weren’t that bad, but Brazil dominated the game, and provided a nice template for how they should play against stronger opposition. It also built well on a set of performances at SheBelieves in February and March that didn’t produce any results but at least looked more credible than some of what we saw from them in 2018. There are still a lot of holes in this team, but they once again look like a viable player on the big stage. It’ll take another strong performance against a better team to really convince me, but the world is better when Brazil is good, so let’s hope so.
The big topic is how (and maybe whether) they should reintegrate Marta. I am a strong believer that Marta makes everyone around her better, and don’t think Brazil’s struggles had anything to do with her being in the team. So I’m entirely on the side of bringing her back in when healthy. But if nothing else, this performance gives them some runway to work with if she isn’t immediately 100%.
For Jamaica, this was probably their best chance for a result, so their odds of making it out of the group have definitely taken a hit. But it’s by no means over, and there was a lot to like in this performance. Shaw didn’t find the net, but she showed plenty of the talent that made everyone talk her up. And the team as a whole looked far more solid and coherent than they did even a few months ago. There’s still a chance for something special from this group of players.
England 2 – 1 Scotland
I missed this game entirely, thanks to poor train station wireless. But it sounds like a fun one, with England in full control for the first hour or so, only to let things slip away a bit and invite Scotland back into the game.
It doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. But it’s nice to get some confirmation that England is, in fact, pretty good. And that Phil Neville actually does have a pretty clear idea of how he wants to set his team up – despite quite a bit of pre-tournament hand-wringing about his tinkering and inconstancy. It was also nice to get some confirmation that Scotland are a perfectly credible team, who can pose real challenges to anyone in the tournament.
I’m really looking forward to seeing both of these teams play going forward.
– I wrote a piece for AllForXI about the Hegerberg conversations, and all the ways that we continue to harass women by demanding impossible levels of perfection and refusing to respect the dignity of their decisions. For more on the subject, check out this nice piece from Meg Linehan on the nature of resistance and different aspects of the fight for equality.
– I also wrote a piece right here at Backline about the Video Assistant Referee system, and the way it’s beginning to take over the experience of these games.
– Sydney Schneider put on a ridiculous display in one of the CONCACAF qualifying games I got to watch back in Texas last fall, and I have been a huge fan ever since. Glad to see her turn in a good game in the World Cup. And she’s still only 19! And hey, while we’re on the subject, go read this great article on Schneider.
– I find it strangely comforting that Sam Kerr is kind of rubbish at taking penalties. It’s just a nice reminder that no one, even a superhero like Kerr, is perfect at everything.
– Good news! According to Jaclyn Mahoney at Football Reference, we’re well ahead of the pace for yellow cards per match (at 2.9 this year, compared to 2.0 and 2.1 in the last two tournaments). I’m a firm believer in giving out more cards.
Argentina – Japan. This should be an easy win for Japan, with Argentina one of the weakest teams in the tournament. But it will still be an interesting test for this young Japan team. Will they put away their chance easily or make it difficult? It will also be the second game in Paris, and I’ll be curious to see how the atmosphere compares to the crackling opening night.
Canada – Cameroon. Again, this should be fairly straightforward. But the potential contrast in styles, at a minimum, should make it interesting. Canada is one of the most conservative teams in the tournament, scoring few and conceding fewer, while Cameroon is one of the most open. It’s also always worth watching Canada, because we’re nearly critical stages of the Christine Sinclair countdown.