The stars have turned up
In the modern era the best players arrive at the men’s World Cup exhausted by the demands of the club season. In Brazil last summer Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both underperformed. This is not yet the case in the women’s game. There are players who have come into the tournament carrying injuries, such as American golden girl Alex Morgan and England’s Jodie Taylor, but most players have trained with a view to peaking in Canada. Indeed, American Abby Wambach has forsaken club football to focus on these finals.
On Tuesday Marta, the five-times World Player of the Year, became the competition’s all-time leading goalscorer when she converted a penalty for Brazil against South Korea to score her 15th finals goal. Germany’s Celia Sasic hit the fastest hat-trick in World Cup history, in 28 minutes, against Ivory Coast. France’s Eugénie Le Sommer struck a spectacular winner against England. And, of course, Christine Sinclair, whose face was on the cover of every Canadian newspaper the day the tournament opened, was on the front pages again the following day after her nerveless injury-time penalty winner for the hosts.
Quality is rising
It is not just Germany who have caught the eye. While there have been some matches of poor quality with too many misplaced passes and naive defending, the continued development of the women’s game has been underlined by some top-class goals.
Daniela Montoya’s equaliser for Colombia against Mexico and Lieke Martens’ winner for the Dutch against New Zealand have been the pick, while all three of Nigeria’s goals against Sweden were expertly taken.
Expansion is justified – just
There are eight debutants at this World Cup, a consequence of expansion from 16 teams to 24. Newcomers Ivory Coast, Ecuador and Thailand conceded a combined 20 goals and were obviously outclassed. But the Dutch and Cameroonians marked their debuts with wins, Costa Rica and Spain drew with each other, and Switzerland were unlucky to lose 1-0 to holders Japan. None of these teams are likely to make the quarter-finals, and there will be further thrashings (one fears for Thailand against Germany) but most will perform creditably and the global game will not grow without teams being exposed to elite competition.
Refs must be up to the job
For many years the referees at the men’s World Cup were chosen to suit football’s tangled geo-politics, with the inevitable result that matches were officiated by referees who were not up to the job. By and large they are now chosen on merit.
This does not appear to be the case at the women’s finals and the problem is exacerbated by the insistence on choosing female officials. This is understandable but does reduce the selection pool (the Women’s Super League in England often uses male referees).
With few major high-profile club competitions, very few female referees will have much experience on a stage like this. As a result there have been some poor decisions at big moments, while France midfielder Camille Abily’s forearm smash into Laura Bassett’s face was missed completely.Reuse content