WFP: Exclusive Articles: A Grainey Day in China
2007 FIFA Women's World Cup
A Grainey Day in China
Scroll the entries below for the latest insight from our man behind the great wall.
All articles written on location, field-side, in China.
Tim Grainey, All over China, September, 2007
Humbled Canadians put in a good performance
Canadians faulter again on the world stage and return from China to a national
association in shambles and team strategy in need of revision.
Tim Grainey, Tianjin, China, Sep. 23, 2007
Canada's quest for World Cup glory came to a stunning end with Australia's dramatic, injury-time goal in Chengdu, China, Sep. 20. The 2–2 draw was enough for Australia to join group winner, Norway, in the Semifinal. Canada, with a 2–1 loss to Norway and 4–0 win over Ghana, was one agonising point short of a berth in the last eight. With the Canadians home ago without the silverware, we do have the opportunity for a quick exercise in reflection and speculation.
Coach Even Pellerud's 4–3–3 lineup overwhelmed the weak Ghanaians in Group play, and the attacking trio of Kara Lang, Christine Sinclair and Katie Thorlakson (not seen since the 2002 U-19 Championship), is one we may see a lot of in the future. Thorlakson (24 caps) only played 45 minutes of this tournament, in part due to a knock at the end of the first-half in the Ghana match, but showed that she is a world class forward and has much to offer. Lang remains an exciting player who would run through a diesel locomotive for the ball, while Sinclair, with three goals and one assist, is still one of the most lethal forwards in the game today.
Still a teenager, Sophie Schmidt played confidently and intelligently in the center, particularly against Ghana, where she netted her first senior goal. Tanya Dennis' emergence on the backline, after some time off with injuries these past few years, was active and impactful, and she played every minute of every game, as did linemates Randee Hermus and Martina Franko.
Goalkeeping remains a Canadian strength. Erin McLeod played all but 11 minutes, subbing out late in the Australia match – the effects of a hard challenge in the box. Hero of 2003, Taryn Swiatek, subbed in and remains very much part of the Canadian landscape.
The notion that Charmaine Hooper, Christine Latham and Sharolta Nonen's absence would destroy any hope this team had of competing, were put to rest... in a casket. The trio's walkout in 2005 before an exhibition with China, in Newfoundland, proved their last contribution, to-date! Recently, a Canadian sport arbitor exhonerated Pellerud and his staff of any blame. Of course, the trio were not invited to China and any difference they would have made would probably have been negative and disruptive.
Options and questions abound for Canada
At thirty-six years of age, Andrea Neil (current all-time caps leader for Canada with 131) has probably seen her last major tournament, subbing in for only six minutes. Thirty-one-year-old defender, Martina Franko, and goalkeeper Karina Le Blanc (27) might also be looking at other options. Canada lacks depth in defence but thankfully, had no major injuries during the tournament. Pellerud has frequently converted players (Franko from forward, Brittany Timko from midfield) to fill voids but needs to groom more true defenders. Emily Zurrer, currently at the University of Illinois, may very well shape the future of that backline.
Canada is a direct side and clearly teams have trouble with that style of play however, the ability to control the ball on the floor, particularly during the second half against Australia, would have released the constant pressure on the defense and frustrated the Matildas. Jodi-Ann Robinson, though a promising 18-year-old, was a surprising first sub in the game against Australia. Except for a shot that rang the cross bar, she was chasing the game and clearly not able to impact it. Experienced players like Mel Booth (0 minutes in three games), Brittany Timko (1 minute) or Amy Walsh (17 minutes) would have been a better choice to settle things down, and help Canada pursue a late winner, after both Aussie tallies.
Canada drops CONCACAF's Olympic torch
Canadian team personnel in China said that the women's team would play on Canadian soil in 2008, which did not happen through 2007, in large part due to hosting the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. A match in the new National Stadium in Toronto would be an excellent platform to display the team to a large welcoming audience. Canada will compete in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers within the first three months of 2008 (details yet to be finalized). Currently, CONCACAF is allocated one berth, while a runner-up will probably play-off with the Oceania Champion for another berth. This means, almost inevitably, another battle with the United States for a place in another tournament in China.
Unfortunately, the CSA (not the pillar of stability of late) has passed on the chance to host the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, denying the team the advantage of playing at home and replicating the crowds and the acclaim the U-19 team experienced during the 2002 FIFA u19 Women's World Championship. Understandably the U-20 men's tournament was a huge undertaking but to throw this hosting bid away is baffling. Haiti will likely host. Good luck with hotel accomodations.
The CSA must now decide how long of a training camp to hold before the qualifiers and then (if Canada makes it) whether to keep the team together as they did this year. Even though the team did not have the desired result this World Cup, the residency camp training certainly helped increase players understanding with one another. It's almost a price of entry among elite national sides now, since everyone is still waiting for the relaunce of the professional WUSA league (pushed back from 2004 to 2005 to 2006 to 2007 to 2008 and now intending to kick off in 2009!)
Pellerud seems likely to guide the 2008 Olympic campaign. Canada is fortunate to have a globally respected coach and visionary for the women's game. If he decides to pack it in though, will the CSA look within (assistant and long time national teamer Ian Bridge) or go outside? Bridge would bring consistency, a successful pedigree with the U-19' s and a thorough knowledge of the players, and would be a good choice.
Though the 2007 Women's World Cup will be looked upon as a disappointing outcome for Canada, if you think back to the poor displays in 1995 and 1999, the team is now streets ahead of those squads and has a large base of talent to grow with.
USA prove worthy favourites over England
The USA reached the Semifinals for the fifth consecutive time with a flattering 3–0 win over England, making only its second appearance beyond the group stage.
Tim Grainey, Tianjin, China, Sep. 22, 2007
The well-tempered Quarterfinal match was closer than the final scoreline revealed. With opponents strong defensive play neutralizing each other, the first half closed scoreless with a paltry, combined total of nine shots, only two of which were on net. The second half however, was far more interesting, beginning in the 48th minute when Abby Wambach scored her 81st goal in a century of internationals, on a header from Kristine Lilly's corner. Wambach's goal unleased a furry of offensive forays by the United States. Although England continued to trouble the American backline, two more US goals in a three minute spell around the hour mark, proved England's defence lacking, and put the game out of reach.
USA players were bouyant after the victory. Lilly said, "I thought today was one of our best games of the tournament. We played some good soccer and now we want to go on and win this. We're confident we can do it and a performance like this only adds to this confidence." Midfielder Shannon Boxx added, "We're happy with our performance. It's the Quarterfinals, it's win or go home...I think we showed, hey, we know how to step it up when the time is needed."
A stiff upper lip
England's coach, Hope Powell, was straightforward in her appraisal, "Tough game. Obviously I'm very, very dissapointed that we lost today. I think we've learned a lot from this tournament and hopefully we'll be back in four years." In terms of matching up with the US, Powell said, "We matched them at times. In the end, we didn't show enough composure in front of goal. We have to learn from that and move on."
Powell mentioned "learn and move on" repeatedly but didn't talk specifically about her plans. She has to be the most difficult coach I have ever interviewed – caustic, haughty and openly billigerent with the press. There is no doubting Powell's impact in her 10 years in charge of the side, including qualifying for two European Championships and this year's World Cup, along with securing a Quarterfinal spot in the 2002 U-19 World Cup in Canada. However, the time might be right to move Powell into an administrative position in the women's game, and bring in another coach to take England to the next level. Hopefully, a new coach won't have Powell's infinite lack of tact as a barrier.
Chinese battlegrounds keep English dreams alive
England does have another chance on the world stage before the 2011 World Cup as its top three showing among European teams, in this tournament, earns them a UEFA spot in next summer's Olympic Women's Championship back in China. They will join Germany and Norway from Europe, along with already qualified North Korea, Japan, Argentina and hosts China.
England clinches first-ever Quarterfinal birth
After tying its first two matches against Japan and Germany, England qualified for a Quarterfinal berth for the first time in its history, with a 6–1 thrashing of Argentina.
Tim Grainey, Chedgdu, China, Sep. 17, 2007
England essentially were home and dry within the first 10 minutes when Argentina's Eva Gonzalez, all alone in her own penalty box, nodded Casey Stoney's hopeful cross into her own net. England doubled the margin 10 minutes later when Jill Scott launched a hard shot from outside the penalty area, slipping inside the near post. England built a 13–3 shots advantage with inventive work in the penalty area, exploiting continual lax marking by Argentina. England then doubled its output in the second half via two penalty kicks (Fara Williams and Vicky Exley) and Kelly Smith's pair (bringing her tournament total to four).
England coach Hope Powell said afterwards, "Obviously we are thoroughly delighted we got the result we wanted. The players worked very hard... I think it's very easy when you come into a game like this when you are expected to win.... The message [from the coaching staff was] certainly they had to concentrate and keep focus on this game, be very diligent in their approach. I think they did that...It was really a job well done."
Goalkeeper Rachel Brown said, "Our first objective was to qualify out of our group. We've fulfilled that goal. We'll now set ourselves new targets. We're very pleased for our football team, after twelve years [since first qualifying in 1995's World Cup] and to progress out of the group stages has been fantastic."
She hoped that the publicity and live braodcasts during the lunchtime in England will have "a knock on effect for the sport" in the country, particularly in the Premier League, where teams have struggled for facilities, funding and consistency.
You came all this way, just to lose
Argentina was by far the worst team in the 2003 FIFA World Cup in the United States and they clearly hold the same title this year. In two of its three losses Argentina have conceded an own goal to open the scoring for its opponents. There are some talented players but tactically they are naive, particularly in defence where England was cutting them to shreads. Coach Jose Carlos Borrello has been in charge for almost a decade and he said that Argentina are targeting to be competitive "in two, three or four World Cups." He declared, "They are developing slowly due to geographic location. It's not very convenient for the team and we do not have as much chances to play in national events and tournaments. Borello needs to talk to Canada's Even Pellerud or Brazil's Rene Simeos, on how to speed up that timeline.
Borrello is out of depth and needs to go, but his listless vision is a symptom of lack of support from the Argentine Football Association. It's an issue for everyone because poorly performing teams are a reason for FIFA to hold off expanding the tournament from 16 teams to 24 in 2011 – a decision they will make later this year. Expansion helps the women's game grow, giving more teams an opportunity, but FIFA rightly want scompetitive squads and Argentina is clearly not there.
With Germany's 2–0 defeat of Japan, England, as Group A runner ups, will play a quarterfinal in Tianjin, Saturday, Sep. 22 versus the Group B winner (USA or Korea DPR).
Aussies rebound back against favourites
Australia, led by supersub Lisa DeVanna, captured a point in an exciting, quality Group C display in the Women's World Cup in Hangzhou, China.
Tim Grainey, Hangzhou, China, Sep. 15, 2007
After Ragnnhild Gulbrandsen scored in the 5th minute, Norway looked completely in control of the first half and seemed set for their second consecutive win of this tournament, coming three days after their 2–1 defeat of Canada. Then came Lisa DeVanna's entrance at the start of the second half and her 83rd minute goal, which was just reward for her magnificient display, including long dribbling runs, inventive play and threatening shots.
Coach Tom Sermanni was asked about DeVanna's traditional entry as a second half sub (or impact player) and he explained, "Lisa has been an impact player and prefers to be that herself because she's always felt she couldn't play for 90 minutes. She's gotten more mature as a player and she probably is in a situation now that she could go in and play for 90. With the team we've got at the moment, its acually beneficial for us to use her the way we're using her."
Coping with a chippy Canada in Chengdu
Sermanni discussed the upcoming match Sep. 19 in Chengdu against Canada. After purposely making three starting lineup changes from Australia's first game with Ghana (a 4–1 win) he said that "we were preparing for three group games in seven days." He cited two preparatory games versus China just before the tournament when he used seven different starters in the second exhibition. That said, the game with Canada will decide which team moves on to the quarterfinals and he emphasized that, "We really need to look at putting our strongest squad on because we need to get a result to make sure we qualify."
Sermanni said that, "Canada is a very difficult team to play against; they are physically strong. They play a style of football that suits the players that they have. They are very direct, very dangerous from set pieces. They are a very competitive team, the kind that never gives up... keeps going and going so we're expecting a very difficult game."
It would not be a surprise if DeVanna starts the match against Canada. She was superb against Norway and if she can score in the first half against Canada, it will make things difficult for the Maple Leafs. Rather than Australia chasing a game as they did against Norway, or playing defensively for a tie, which would ensure Australia advances, Sermanni will probably try to start aggressively, and that means DeVanna, and making Canada chase the Roos.
Canada currently sits third in its group with three points (one win and one loss). Australia's 1–1 tie with Norway left both teams level on four points, with Australia ahead on goal difference. Canada could advance with a tie on goal difference ahead of Norway, only if the Scandinavians lose to Ghana - an extremely unlikely event based on Ghana's woeful performance in its first two games.
Canada grinds Ghana in foregone conclusion
In a must-win scenario following earlier defeat by Norway, Canada beat up on Ghana 4–0 to keep hopes alive, and set up a rowdy romp with the roos for a quarterfinal berth.
Tim Grainey, Hangzhou, China, Sep. 15, 2007
Canada hit Ghana early with a very offensive 4–4–3 formation including Randee Hermus, Martina Franko, Tanya Dennis and Kristina Kiss on the backline in front of Erin McLeod. Candace Chapman and Diana Matheson flanked busy Sophie Schmidt in the mid while up front, Even Pellerud started Kara Lang, Christine Sinclair and Katie Thorlakson – an attack Canadian fans haven't seen since the championship game of the 2002 FIFA U-19 World Cup, in Edmonton.
Sinclair opened the scoring in the 16th minute on an assist by Thorlakson (playing in her first World Cup). Flanked by Lang and Sinclair, Thorlakson played extremely well and threatened Ghana's net herself. Unfortunately, the Langley native was substituted at 44' following a hard collision. She should be available for the last group match, Sep. 19, against Australia.
Ghana displayed some good ball movement but seemed content to blast shots from well outside of the box. They looked dangerous but usually sailed high or wide. A rare venture inside the 18, right at the close of the half, would have been the tieing goal if not for the underside of Canada's crossbar.
Canada broke loose in the second half with three goals, beginning with Schmidt of Winnipeg, scoring her first goal for Canada on a header from a Sinclair pass. Provider turned scorer again as Sinclair netted her second after some marvaleous approach work with Lang, that had Chinese media raving about the innovative play. Franko closed the scoring after a deflection from a corner kick.
Andrea Neil's late appearance earned her 131st cap – a new Canadian team record, surpassing Charmaine Hooper's mark of 130.
Pellerud felt that "Ghana had more possession (55% to 45% according to FIFA's official match statistics) but we played well... we executed our game plan." The most telling statistic was Canada's 14 shots on goal to Chana's 3. Pellerud cited the play of Dennis and goalscorer Schmidt for special recognition. Though Dennis was on the 2003 squad as an 18 year old, she has been in and out due to injury. Schmit's ascent to a starting role and commanding play had Pellerud labeling her as, "a surprise... how well she has performed." He felt that both player's performance, "speaks well for the future. We need to make it consistent."
Canada sits third in the group with three points (one win and one loss). Australia's 1–1 tie with Norway left both teams level on four points, with Australia ahead on goal difference. Canada plays Australia Sep. 19 in Chengdu. A Canadian victory will see them in the quarterfinal next weekend.
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