From some perspectives (including that of players on the field), it looks like France outplayed the USWNT in the World Cup semifinal. But France lost. [Necib, in today's edition of L'Equipe: "The worst is that we were better than them." 14 June]
It has been said, too, of France’s game against England, that they dominated possession, played the better game. But they only won on penalties. Many felt that Brazil played a better game against the US in the Olympics, some might say they played a better game (in a few ways at least) than the USWNT last week – but Brazil lost the Olympic and the World Cup matches.
Defensive work from the whole team provided the architecture of the USWNT’s recent wins - from Solo, Sauerbrunn, LePeilbet, Rampone, Rapinoe, Lloyd, Kreiger, and more. Even pressure from Alex Morgan contributes to this side of the USWNT game: I never understood why the striker was brought on so late in match after march until I saw her entry into the game with my own eyes.
The minute she took to the field, she began harassing the keeper and France’s back line – when they had the ball.
For long stretches against a ‘technical’ opponent like Brazil or France, it looks like the USWNT isn’t playing pretty football. Those teams love to hold the ball. They play a possession game.
The media trains us to look at the game through the logic of attack. When we do so, we act as if a team only plays when they have the ball. But of course this is just not true.
Be wary of sports talk about possession and the “run of play.” Possession is not nine-tenths of the law in the game.
Think of Italy. The team’s style polarizes the football world for its ungenerous play, but the record speaks for itself. That kind of team is expert in weathering attack. It’s siege-mentality football, in which one lets the opponent do a certain kind of work – in which one lets them spend and spend and spend energy and imagination. Eventually, they pass a tipping point. One pass too many, one moment of hesitation, and you can see frustration settle in. Attack that much over an hour without success and the last thirty minutes become desperate.
Flashes of counterattack exploit the cracks that have developed under the dynamic stress of the possession game. [That is when Morgon comes in.]
The USWNT isn’t playing as cynically as Italy at its most notorious. But some of the same principals are clearly in play, and have worked.
I still don’t understand Japan’s game. They look more “total” – end-to-end, there is something jaw-droppingly complete about the way the team plays. Personally, I am thrilled they beat Sweden and are in the final. They are the most exciting team in the tournament, and lord knows, there is a global sense of good will for the team.
Whatever happens, Sunday’s match is going to be fantastic.