Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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    Did you see my great predictions for the women's World Cup quarterfinals? I got the scores of USA-Norway (1-0) and Sweden-Brazil (2-1) exactly right! A purist might complain that I had the teams reversed in both games, but I think that's a minor point. After all, even a guy off the street has a 50% chance of picking a winner--only an expert can hit the numbers on the nose. It's also important to note…oh, who am I kidding? I blew it.

    Which is a shame, because stylistically, the games played out pretty much as predicted. USA-Norway was a battle of direct teams, with few great scoring chances. Norway sat back for the counterattack, and when their midfield got the ball it was Pettersen and Mellgren racing toward goal to get in position. But the USA's back line was magnificent: not once did they let the Norwegian forwards get the ball behind them on the counter. Joy Fawcett in the middle and Cat Reddick on the left were particularly impressive. It's a great story for Reddick, who only got the spot because of an injury to Brandi Chastain; she's the youngest player on the team, but she plays intelligent, physical football, and her superb performances against North Korea (including two goals!) and now Norway stamp her as a regular for a long time to come.

    The USA controlled midfield for much of the game, and on attack relied on their strong forward line--although Cindy Parlow, normally an out-and-out striker, played as a withdrawn forward, sacrificing her scoring punch for a distributing and defensive role. After a bright start, Mia Hamm faded quickly, and had a very ordinary game, but she was more than made up for by Abby Wambach. Wambach has been the revelation of the tournament: strong and mobile, good with the ball at her feet, seemingly tireless, she rivals Birgit Prinz as the best all-around striker on display. She disrupted the Norwegian defense from the start, and Marit Christensen in particular was no match for her. It was Christensen she beat in the 5th minute, when her header hit the crossbar, and also in the 24th, when she headed home Reddick's free kick for the only goal.

    Norway deserves a lot of credit for hanging in the game. They got an outstanding performance in goal from Bente Norby, and at moments in the second half looked as if they might get control of midfield. But the USA's overall quality, plus that great show from the back line, proved too much. In all, Norway had only one legitimate chance at goal, and that came in the final minute, when Solveig Gulbrandsen just missed getting her foot to the ball after a headed pass from Anita Rapp. The USA's midfield is still short of creativity, but they don't give an inch, and it's looking more and more as if the team has enough to take the trophy.

    Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have the referees on your side. Against Norway, for the third time in the tournament, the USA got a highly doubtful penalty in their favor. With Wambach charging after a ball at the top of the area, Norby bravely came out to challenge, and when Wambach tumbled over her, the referee pointed to the spot. The replay showed no foul, just an off-balance hurdle job, and so the Americans had yet another free shot at goal. Fortunately Hamm botched the kick, and Norby saved easily. The USA is my home team, but I'm getting pretty annoyed by the blatant favoritism. Aside from the unfairness of it all, you want your team to win honestly. No matter how many times they show Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt in celebration, Brianna Scurry still moved off her line early when she saved the key penalty in the championship game in 1999.

    Speaking of referees, Zhang Dongqing of China played a big role in the Sweden-Brazil battle. For most of the game she allowed a remarkable amount of rough play; foul after apparent foul came with no whistle. In general, this worked in favor of the Swedes, who were playing a physical pressing game. And Sweden also got the benefit of the most important no-call of all. In second-half injury time, with Brazil one goal down, Marta put Katia in on goal, and Sara Call appeared to shove her from behind. The replay was inconclusive: certainly Call had her arm on Katia's back, but Katia also appeared to stumble a bit, and it's hard to tell exactly how hard Call pushed. Zhang's no-call was consistent with the rest of her evening, but that was little consolation for the Brazilians.

    But even Brazil had to admit that Sweden was the better team on the night. Before the game, the big question was whether Brazil could handle the Swedish pressure, and the answer turned out to be no. With Malin Mostroem, Malin Andersson, Anna Sjoestroem, and Frida Oestberg leading the charge, the Swedes bodied up to the Brazilian midfielders, and never let them get into their rhythm. Marta had pretty much her usual game, brilliant one moment, absent the next, but Formiga was completely shut down, and Maicon only intermittently in evidence. Rosana, so effective in the group stage, disappeared entirely. As a result, Katia had very little service, and although occasionally she came back well for possession, Sweden simply seemed to have too many players around the ball.

    A key tactical switch from coach Marika Domansky Lyfors was part of the story. In her first two games, Jane Toernqvist had had terrible troubles on the left side of the 4-woman back line. Against Nigeria she was replaced by Sara Larsson, who was only a slight improvement. But against Brazil, Lyfors put Toernqvist in central defense, with Larsson still out on the left, and the combination clicked. Larsson had a marvelous game, and Toernqvist covered neatly when necessary. As a result, one of the team's major weaknesses was solved.

    But the other weakness was goal scoring, and for a while it looked as if it might come back to haunt them. Hanna Ljungberg ran herself into the ground as usual, but wasn't much of a factor in front of goal. Victoria Svensson scored in the first half with a classic header off a serve from Mostroem, but missed a great heading chance a few minutes later. And for the team as a whole, the killer touch seemed just out of reach. When in the 43rd minute Maicon sent Marta through, and keeper Sofia Lundgren brought her down, Marta's spot-kick seemed to put Brazil back in business. (Lundgren's presence was a story in itself; starting keeper Carolina Joensson had taken a proscribed medicine for dehydration, and Sweden didn't want to risk a positive drug test.) But only 8 minutes into the second half, Sweden finally found another source of goals: Malin Andersson, who smashed a gorgeous 25-yard free kick past Andreia for the go-ahead tally. The rest was more and more pressing, eventual Brazilian desperation, and that controversial non-penalty in the dying moments.

    A parenthesis here on the officiating. As noted, the official for Brazil-Sweden was Zhang Dongqing of China. So? Well, given the draw, the winner of Brazil-Sweden was most likely to play…China. That's right. No way FIFA would allow that in the men's World Cup. It's an indication the women's game is still perceived as innocent, as above suspicion. But China would probably have been happier to face Sweden than Brazil, and since the way Zhang called the game turned out to favor Sweden…It just seems that's a complication we don't need.

    As for China, they exited the tournament in shocking fashion, losing to Canada 0:1. A very simple story: Canada scored in the 7th minute, and then defended for the remaining 83. The goal, at least, was neatly taken: after a Canadian corner kick was cleared, Charmaine Hooper timed her run perfectly, beat the offside trap, and headed a lovely long cross from Diana Matheson past a late-arriving Han Wengxia. But the rest was pretty ugly. Canada went into the bunker, absorbed the Chinese pressure, and got the ball out of there as often as they could. It was kick and rush without the rush. But as throughout the tournament, China, so elegant and fast in attack, couldn't create enough chances, and couldn't finish the ones they made. In the early part of the game, it appeared Pu Wei might provide the long-absent creative spark in midfield, but she faded quickly. Zhao Lihong had her moments on the left wing, too, but often her last pass was misjudged, and she twice shot poorly with a goal in the offing. In the second half, substitute Zhang Ouying brought some excitement to the right of attack, running right at defenders, looking dangerous every time she got the ball at her feet--but again, the final pass was never accurate enough. Bai Jie, Sun Wen's partner up front, seemed disconnected from the team most of the night, and was never really a factor. As the game went on, you just knew they weren't going to get it in goal.

    You have to feel for Sun. As always, she was brilliant, spinning, passing, dribbling, giving 100 percent. But without enough creative support, she couldn't concentrate on scoring. She hit the crossbar shortly after Hooper's goal, then about ten minutes later made a remarkable series of moves, shooting just wide. But after that she had to be content with making chances for others, and her teammates couldn't finish what she started.

    We should give Canada some credit. Although China dominated midfield, the back four held well, with Hooper particularly effective. And keeper Taryn Swiatek was a rock all night: she never had to make a tough save, but was letter-perfect coming off her line, and was always exactly where she needed to be. Towards the end of the game, as China faded, the Canadians got stronger, and in the final ten minutes the outcome was never in doubt. China had been riding for a fall all tournament, but only Canada was able to knock them off the horse.

    In the remaining game, Germany slaughtered Russia 7:1--although you would never have predicted such a result at halftime. German coach Tina Thune-Meyer opened with a dubious tactical move, putting centerforward and leading scorer Birgit Prinz out on the attacking left side of midfield in a 3-3-3-1 formation, with Martina Mueller at the point. You could say the strategy worked, because Mueller scored the only goal of the first half, but it was a tremendous waste of Prinz, who had little to do out on the left. Meanwhile, Russia sat back, as expected, and Germany controlled the midfield, using Maren Meinert's through balls as their primary offensive weapon. But Meinert was erratic--for every good pass there were three off target--and Marina Burakova was having a heroic game at sweeper for Russia. It wasn't until the 25th minute that Meinert finally connected with Mueller, who finished beautifully on a first time cross-shot. After that a couple of Meinert passes almost found Kerstin Garefrekes in the area. But at halftime the score was only 1:0, and it was obvious Germany were not at their best. Russia had had zero scoring chances, but seemed comfortable on defense and ready to keep the score close.

    At the beginning of the second half Prinz was still out on the left, and for the first ten minutes Germany accomplished little. Meanwhile, Russia was looking somewhat brighter, although they never really tested Silke Rottenberg. Finally, in the 57th minute, with the game still in the balance, Thune-Meyer replaced Mueller with Pia Wunderlich, putting Wunderlich in Prinz's left side spot and moving Prinz up to centerforward where she belonged. It was surely coincidence that an instant later Sandra Minnert scored on a header off a corner for 2:0, but it was no coincidence whatsoever that only three minutes later came the third: Stefanie Gottschlich ranged down the left wing and sent a low cross to Prinz, who delivered a stunning backheel for Wunderlich to smash in. The rest was a massacre, with 2 goals from Garefrekes--on both of which Prinz helped in the buildup--and 2 magnificent strikes from Prinz herself, one right-footed, one left. Prinz is now a shoo-in for the Golden Boot, and if she doesn't start up top against the USA there should be an investigation. As for Russia, they were simply overmatched--but let's mention striker Elena Danilova, a mere 16 years old; she came in at the beginning of the second half, scored the consolation tally, and looks like a great prospect for the future.

    But it's still the present, and the game is USA-Germany, the game that's been looming as the true Final since the first day of competition. It should be an absolutely fascinating contest: German finesse vs. American power, the slow buildup vs. the direct route to goal. There will be two key areas of contention. The first is at the front of the German midfield, where Meinert is the trigger for the attack. The USA will pressure her relentlessly, and it'll be her job to break free for passes from Bettina Wiegmann and send the ball forward to Prinz or Garefrekes. If she can't get possession, look for her to move farther up and try to create from a striker's spot. The second key area will be at the front of the American attack, where Mia Hamm will try to create for Abby Wambach, and Wambach and Cindy Parlow will try to use their power to overwhelm the smaller German defenders. Remember too that Steffi Jones, the big centerback, is out with an injury, and the USA has been uncanny on set pieces. Should the German defense hold, or should coach April Heinrich think more substance is needed in midfield, we might see Aly Wagner, a traditional playmaking midfielder, instead of big striker Parlow. The USA is naturally a slight favorite, but let's hope the referees forget they're the home team. I'm going to guess USA 2:1. (So you know to bet on Germany.)

    As for Sweden-Canada, it looks decidedly like the lesser semifinal, but should be entertaining nevertheless. Sweden should apply their vigorous pressing game, and will probably gain the advantage in midfield. Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson will do their darting thing up front. Canada is likely to play long ball, and use the trio of Kara Lang, Christine Sinclair, and Christine Latham to try to overpower the Swedish back line. They'll also use their height advantage on set pieces. Goals should be in short supply, and the game will probably come down to who's sharpest in the area. I think Sweden has more quality overall, and they should definitely be the favorite; but Canada, although they've rarely impressed, has been resilient all tournament, and an upset isn't out of the question. But let's say Sweden 2:1. (So you know to bet on Canada.)

    One big semifinal and one little: is that any way to run a tournament? No, but you really can't blame FIFA. No one expected China to fall so short of their best, and certainly no one expected both Norway and Brazil to be gone by now. In the last column, I wrote about pedigree, and the way it's dominated the women's game over the years. Maybe in a decade or so USA 2003 will be seen as the turning point, the first step toward wider balance in the women's game. It'll be a welcome development--except it'll make the games more difficult to predict, and given my record so far, that's not encouraging.



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