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
Read earlier columns
Don't Ask Me
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out-and-out striker, played as a withdrawn forward, sacrificing her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
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
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
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.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.