Before we look forward to the U.S. – France semi-final in the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday, let’s take a fond—no, make that a besotted—look back at Sunday’s “Game For the Ages,” the quarter-final against Brazil.
That was simply the most emotionally satisfying sports performance I’ve seen in years. It had the feel of an underdog taking down a Goliath, though of course that’s not accurate. The U.S. is a perennial power in women’s soccer, with two World Cup championships in hand, while the Brazilian women have yet to win a title.
(It rankled some of the U.S. players that the Brazilian uniforms included the five stars that the Brazilian men’s jersey sports, each star representing a World Cup championship, as if the women’s team was entitled to share in the men’s glory.)
Now the U.S. has to file that incredible achievement away and face a very dangerous French team, a team that represents how the women’s game is evolving.
So when Abby Wambach headed in Megan Rapinoe's long and superb cross to send the overtime game to penalty kicks, it was simply a sublime sports moment, one that brought tears to my eyes. In retrospect, at least, the penalty kicks seemed a formality. The U.S. was going to win, thanks to superior conditioning and mental fortitude.
Thanks to true grit, that is, and the American spirit, all of which seemed quite tangible.
Too bad that game wasn’t the final. Now the U.S. has to file that incredible achievement away and face a very dangerous French team, a team that represents how the women’s game is evolving.
The U.S. is not a finesse team. In fact, on offense against Brazil they sometimes seemed incapable of stringing together passes or setting up plays, despite often having plenty of room to work with. No, the U.S. wins by being stronger than everyone else, physically and mentally. If you want to score against them, you’re going to have to work very hard, thanks in large part to Hope Solo's fierce goalkeeping.
Unless, of course, the ref makes it easy for you.
But I digress. Their semi-final opponent, France, is a different kind of team. Like Japan, which shocked host Germany (also a traditional women’s soccer power), France plays skillful team ball. France has an enormous advantage over most teams: Most of their players play for the same French team, Olympique Lyonnais, which zipped through its French season undefeated, and even untied, and also won the European championship.
Their situation is not unlike the Spanish men’s team, which won last year’s World Cup with a team mostly made up of FC Barcelona stars.
They’re a formidable foe. On the other hand, France (which also advanced on penalty kicks) is not historically a women’s soccer power. They’ve never advanced this deep into the tournament. In fact, women’s soccer is so under-valued in France that some of the women recently appeared in some discreet nude photos in order to stir up local interest in their World Cup run. So perhaps they’re not ready for the big time.
Anyway, I’m not picking anyone to beat this U.S. team. I remain in awe of Sunday’s game.