Alex Scott World Cup 2014 column: From here on, everything will depend on who deals best with the pressure
The World Cup now moves into winner takes all territory
Friday 27 June 2014
The World Cup gets down to the nitty-gritty with the knockout stages and the pressure starts to change. No more is there the luxury of looking to the next game to put wrongs right, no more hoping other teams may do you a favour.
At the major tournaments I have been involved in, both with England and Team GB, four times we got to the knockout stages. Only once have we managed to progress further than the quarter-finals.
As a player, you look at so many reasons why you have failed. Were they the better team? Did we execute our game plan correctly? One question we may not ask ourselves is: did I deal well with the pressure?
Lose in the knockout stages and you are on the next flight home. Players’ mindsets can shift. You start putting more emphasis on winning, but are also more nervous about losing.
At the London Olympics we were on a high. We had topped the group, shocking Brazil with a 1-0 win at Wembley in front of more than 76,000 spectators. The feeling was magical.
We were taking women’s football to a whole new audience and the media attention was the best it had ever been.
We had already beaten our quarter-final opponents, Canada, that year and really believed we could beat them again. We did not underestimate them – we knew that they possessed one of the world’s best strikers in Christine Sinclair – but as a team we believed.
We lost 2-0 and the Canadians went on to a bronze medal. Looking back, it always feels like a missed opportunity. We were great in the group stages but when it really mattered we had lost.
When you get home the first question friends, family and even neighbours will ask you is: “What went wrong?” It can be so frustrating because you just can’t put your finger on it.
We didn’t have one of our main players, Kelly Smith, through injury, and some players were fatigued, but we had dealt with things like that before. Was the pressure too much for us?
We knew winning that game would be huge for women’s football in this country – did that affect us?
It was great that we beat Brazil, but going into that game we already knew we were through to the quarter-finals. You could see that we were playing with no fear of making mistakes, we were just enjoying the occasion.
But against Canada there was everything at stake. You have worked so hard to get to this point and you know that in one game your dream can be over.
As things really start to heat up in Brazil, will we see teams crumbling under pressure? Will teams take fright and become more defensive?
Ronaldo is a player who knows how to handle the pressure
The best teams and players find ways to deal with the pressure, even to thrive on it. Cristiano Ronaldo is a prime example of a player with huge pressure on him every time he steps on the field, especially for Portugal. Against the US he was clearly not fit and everything he tried failed. Into injury time Portugal were on the brink of being eliminated but Ronaldo stayed cool and in the 94th minute delivered a pinpoint cross that enabled his team to stay in the competition.
That ability to rise to the occasion, not be crushed by it, will determine who stays in Brazil and who is on the next flight home with the dream over for another four years – if they are lucky enough to get another chance.
Alex Scott plays for Arsenal Ladies. She has won 114 England caps and played in the Women’s World Cup in 2007 and 2011. Arsenal Ladies play Liverpool Ladies at Select Security Stadium, Widnes, Sunday, kick-off 12.15pm. Tickets £5/£2.50
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