Thursday, August 28, 2008

Half Time

From A Left Wing is on vacation until late September. Check out "Left Wing's Best Shots" in the left column for a sampling of articles posted on this blog since December 2007.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dazed and Confused: Brazil Comes Up Empty/USWNT Takes Home 3rd Gold Medal

It's past midnight, and I've spent the day a bit lost and confused. I drank too much wine, I talked too fast and didn't really listen to people. Or, I didn't talk much at all, and didn't listen to what others were saying. I just waited for a decent time to call it a night. Is 9:30pm respectable enough? Is that too early to call it a night so I can get the day over with?

Brazil lost to the US, by one unanswered goal scored by Carli Lloyd in extra time. I know the words on my passport should have had me rooting for the US, but I felt no joy at this victory, and did no more at the match's finish than turn off the television.

I agree with Brazilian fans Hugo & Cibele's take (see comments to my last entry) on today's match. The US played a strong game, a strategic game, and were tireless. The match looked like a replay of the loss to Germany in the World Cup final - the opposition's impenetrable defense, Hope Solo taking on Angerer's position as the unbeatable keeper, then the waiting game - you know that lone, textbook goal is coming somewhere in the last twenty minutes or so. And there it was - USA 1/Brazil 0.

It was a soulless match. I don't know the answer to the question these kinds of games provoke - because if they suck the joy out of the room, they do put silverware on the mantle.

What was it Eduardo Galeano said? The story of football is a voyage from 'beauty to duty' and is today played by 'functionaries' who 'specialize in avoiding defeat.'

I wanted Brazil to take home the medal. It would have made for a better story. But perhaps this desire is about more than wanting a certain team to win - perhaps it expresses a longing for a world in which the "beautiful losers" win.

I shouldn't be so romantic. When we see Brazil's national women's team get the material support they deserve, we'll see them winning these final matches. I just hope that Brazil's football association takes this defeat as an incentive to honor the skill and passion these women bring to the game, by putting their resources into their training and competition program, and by developing the talents of those girls inspired by them. I fear though that some may see in this a confirmation of their patriarchal ambivalence towards the very idea of "Pele in skirts."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic Women's Soccer Semifinal - Brazil Levels Germany 4-1: Formiga Ends Angerer's Unprecedented Record in the Goal

Wow. All I can say is Wow. (Click here for FIFA match summary.) As Canarihnas just played the game of their lives against Germany (Check out Amanda Vandervort's article on them here). After a rocky start, in which Germany looked on path to beat Brazil at her own game in a repeat of the 2007 World Cup Final, Brazil came back from one down with a brilliant strike from Formiga (pictured here) and then followed up with a string of devastating attacks on goal - playing circles around the 2007 World Cup Champions to end the match with a decisive, and very entertaining victory (4-1).

Brazil's defense looked awful at the game's start, and I'm going to say one of the plays of the match has to be a save from Tania early on - at about 2 minutes, she dug deep and literally extended herself farther than one would have though possible to get rid of a very dangerous cross headed right to the front of the goal, where Germany's strikers were waiting. Overall, in the opening Brazil's defense was harrowing to watch and they looked bizarrely slow.

Meanwhile Bridget Prinz had her eye on the goal, and looked on pace to score. She's tall, and has a lot of physical presence - she's also lightening fast, and opened the scoring at ten minutes with a first rate run, out dribbling the opposition and taking the ball right up to the goal. It was a move right out of Brazil's own play book. My notes on this point: "WTF!?" That's a good "WTF", by the way, because it was a great goal - even if it made my heart sink.

The game was a rough one (3 yellow cards for Brazil, 2 for Germany) - as was the case with their opening match, neither team wanted to let the other team find its rhythm. There were some scary moments - early on (around 6 minutes), as Angerer raced in to protect the ball she threw herself in the way of Daniela's raised foot - she took it flat on the chest. It looked like a 50/50 challenge to me, as Daniela had no right to expect Angerer's body to be there, and Angerer did get the ball - the latter is 100% fearless on this point, and has made some insane-looking challenges in the past (giving up a penalty in the 2007 World Cup to Marta - which she then saved). It's part of her strength as a goalie, she makes you think twice about taking the ball close. She took a minute, but got up and was right back in it. She is tough as nails. She was then making one stop after another - and as impressive as many of these saves were, I found myself thinking that if Brazil kept up this level of attack, it would only be a matter of time.

The turning point of the match came at 43 minutes. Cristiane took the ball deep into Germany's half with loads of defenders on her - she nutmegged Stegemann and then made some highlight-reel worthy maneuvers around the defense - toeing and rolling the ball this way and that, to turn and send it right to the sweet spot in the middle: Marta, of course, was there (and marked). FIFA says she failed to connect - but this video suggests that she actually might have flicked the ball on (or not) - but an unmarked FORMIGA raced in and fired the ball into the net. Split between Cristiane (capable of shooting on target even when marked by two or three players), and Marta (ditto), and Formiga (there was no one left to mark her!) - Angerer was beat: For the first time in god knows how many minutes.

I have come to admire and respect Nadine Angerer so much that a part of me was sad to see her unprecedented streak brought to an end. Her record of minutes played without conceding a goal will, no doubt, stand for years and years to come.

Now - can I just say: I called it. Formiga! Not to take anything away from the twinned futebol goddesses Marta and Cristiane - but, as I've argued elsewhere, mid-fielder Formiga in many ways represents Brazil's strengths as a team. The talents of strikers like Marta and Cristiane are easier to measure in the very very limited space alloted to women's football, and you'll rightly see their names everywhere in coverage of the team's Olympic exploits. But with so little column inches given to writing about the women's game, we don't hear much about the John Terrys, Lilian Thurams, Petr Cechs, or even the Zidanes of the women's game. When I first started watching Brazil, I kept asking myself: What position does Formiga play? Because you'd see her clearing the line (as she did at least once in this game), playing well back, and then well forward - racing in to follow up the forwards, taking loose balls back and distributing. She is a very, very smart and fast player - with what I think they call "a great work rate." I would just love to have the stats on how many kilometers she logs in a match.

I don't think she's called Formiga because she's tiny. I think it's because playing her is like being covered with ants. She moves like she's got eight legs and like there is a thousand of her. She drives you crazy because you can't get rid of her. She plays like an army of Formigas! Formiga: I am a fan! So, I practically wept when she opened up the scoring - and it's fitting that she should hammer home a fantastic team goal, too.

Well - what else is there to say? Marta (getting past Stegemann here) and Cristiane (celebrating one of her goals here with a back-flip) put Brazil ahead with a classic collaboration - Marta takes the ball in close, draws one, two, three defenders and then slides the ball to Cristiane who exploits the space with a neat slide past Angerer. Later, Marta decides she needs a run and wants to score one too, so she takes the ball in close, beats the two defenders and with a tricky and risky little move she manages to get the ball just past an outstretched Angerer, using her left foot to do so. Cristiane puts the last nail in the coffin with her own attacking solo, beating four (yes, that's four) defenders before taking on and beating Angerer. Damn.

I'm so happy to see Formiga & As Canarihnas get past Germany (who deserve much recognition for their recent performances - truly an amazing team). And if we see the US go through (they are playing Japan as I write this), there will be lots on the line in that gold medal match, as the US will be looking for its own payback for last year's semi-final World Cup loss, and Brazil, too, for their last Olympics final which they very narrowly lost to the US.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Women's Soccer: Japan Beats China?! Germany Seals the Deal. And, well, Brazil Makes You Crazy.

OK: First off - Japan beat China (FIFA summary here). The two are rivals, but I can't say as I saw this one coming. I only caught the second half, and it was good enough to explain why. I felt for China, as I can’t imagine how it must feel to give up a game like that in front of so many adoring fans. At least they were supportive (the atmosphere in the stadium seemed amazing). That said, during the second half they seemed overly cautious – almost depressed, even when they had the ball. Japan, on the other hand, reminded us just how much of the game is about getting to the ball first. They had hustle, hustle, hustle and deserved the win. Sawa got the first goal, and celebrates here. Nagasato got the second, cleaning up some scrap in front of China's goal. They move on to take on the U.S. They lost to the Americans 1-0 but I'm not sure what that says about anybody.

NEXT: I missed the first half of the above game watching a scoreless 45 between Sweden & Germany, who were playing a very physical and defensively amazing game (FIFA summary). [By the way 5 of the players in this match are teammates at Djurdåden Damfotboll in Sweden - Sweden's Victoria Svensson, Sara Thunebro & Linda Forsberg; Germany's Ariane Hingst and Nadine Angerer.] Germany grabbed the lead in extra time, with a perfectly placed corner from Lingor. Garefrekes laddered over the crowd and headed the ball across and into the net with force. Sweden's keeper got the tips of her fingers on it, and almost had the save, but there was just too much power on the ball. Simone Laudehr scores in the second half of extra time from a perfectly placed ball from Prinz. As Sweden put on the pressure, my gal Nadine made another save or two - the game ends, in fact, with Sweden having taken 9 shots on target to Germany's ten. And that's it.

One of my teammates suggests in a comment on this blog that I might give Angerer too much credit in some of my entries. After mulling this possibility over, I thought perhaps I should say that Germany's entire defense has fantastic communication. I don't think I've seen a single slip up between them once. Otherwise, I'd say - no - it's impossible to give her too much credit. She's kept a clean sheet so far, and had a clean sheet through the World Cup. Nobody seems to score against her. She went 540 minutes in the 2007 world cup without conceding a single goal - and that includes a penalty save against Marta! This is, by the way, a record for both men and women. This youtube video is grainy, but it gives you a sense of how good she is. I have to say, while I'm not a Germany fan, I am an Angerer fan. The more I see her in action, the more I feel like I am watching football history unfold.

LAST: How do you beat Brazil? (FIFA summary for their game against Norway). Unless you are Germany and have Nadine Angerer solving all your problems (Marta, Cristiane, Formiga, Daniela, etc.), I don’t know if it can be done. Here is Brazil's strategy: The team is stacked with players that need three defenders on them when they have the ball. Give the ball to one of those women, and let her take it up a bit. Everybody else gets to move around, and because the player with the ball is so awesome, she will actually get it to one of her teammates - say Cristiane - even though she's holding the ball in the middle of a wasps nest. And, since, like, at best the player receiving the pass has maybe one or two defenders on her, and she is better than them, she can score. Brazil has players who can do things like surprise a defender who is running for and with the ball towards the goal, and before she gets control of it, your Amazonian football goddess will make up the five yards between them and slide her body between that running defender and the moving ball and - mid-stride - she sends the ball into the back of the net (the strike is pictured here). That's how Marta got the second goal. She made it look easy, but the look on the Norwegian defender's face (surprise, frustration, awe) said it all.

Brazil is getting better and better. They are proud of their skills, and have every single right to be [I originally wrote "cocky and arrogant" instead of "proud of their skills" - and I meant on the field, when they in their groove - but too many readers mistook my remark, so I changed it for clarity: see comments]. If I had to face these women in a game, I think I’d just, well, I guess I’d foul them hard and often. I think it must be easy to get frustrated and angry playing them. And that's part of their plan.

The only weakness I saw in Brazil’s game today was that they got too relaxed after the second goal. In particular – their forwards, who seemed content to just let the back line do any defensive work, which therefore meant Norway spent more time in Brazil’s territory than they should have in the last fifteen minutes, and Brazil wound up giving them a penalty. But, you know, I didn't mind watching women laughing and having a good time as they were in the game's last leg. Overall, though, for the most part it seemed like Norway was just so sure they were going to lose that they gave up before they set foot on the pitch.

They have their work cut out for them, because they must face Germany again. That's the game of the tournament in my eyes. Pardon the expression, but it should be balls-to-the-walls football, as I am sure Brazil has no intention of letting this game go to penalties.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Women's Soccer: Profligacy, Parsimony, Politics (reflections on the Super Falcons' performance)

FIFA has a pretty decent summary of the Brazil/Nigeria match in their site, and there is a great blow-by-blow from, so I'm not going to give the detailed account I gave for the Super Falcon's battle against Germany (see below). Watching today's match (amazing - don't let that 3-1 score fool you, it was an entertaining match start to finish), I found myself mulling over the way the word "profligacy" was used in FIFA's summary of that last game againt Germany:
The African champions dominated much of this match and had enough chances to win a few games, but their profligacy in front of goal - which had already been in evidence in their 1-0 defeat to Korea DPR - once again proved their undoing.
Warning: I am an English Professor by trade. The author meant something like "wasted goal scoring opportunity," a situation that writers about football find themselves needing to write over and over again, and so one's vocabulary stretches along with that striker's foot, and like that prodigal daughter who discards the perfect pass and misses the wide open net, sometimes the writer, too, goes wide of the mark. All that aside, profligacy is an odd word choice. Its first meaning is:
1. Licentious or dissolute behaviour; debauchery; spec. (in later use) sexual promiscuity. [Oxford English Dictionary]
Given the centuries-old racist and sexist traditions that inform representations of African women, it is not a word I would choose. I am sure the FIFA writer didn't mean to draw from this (the primary) meaning of the word. Better to use the word in a statement like "Manchester United's behavior off the pitch is a good example of the profligate lifestyle of contemporary footballers."

Even the secondary meanings for "profligacy" feel not quite right as a description of how the Super Falcons play:
2. a. Reckless extravagance, prodigality; (also) a wasteful or extravagant act. 2. b. Lack of moderation, excess; great abundance, profusion. [Again, this is from the O.E.D.]
On this point, my objection isn't political, but technical. In footballing terms, I would say "profligacy" is more apropos of the striker who strikes too soon, of the player who sends the ball too far down the pitch. (In which case, one might tag Brazil for its profligacy in the first match against Germany in which we saw lots of long balls just thrown away.)

If the Super Falcons suffered against these teams - the very best teams in the very toughest group in this tournament - it was, I think, more properly because they were too conservative. Which is perhaps counterintuitive, because the Super Falcons play with a lot of style and imagination. But style isn't the same thing as wastefulness. If that were true, Argentina and Brazil would have the weakest records in football. And England would have qualified for Euro 2008.

A team of goal scorers and a lame back line may be accused of profligacy, in which case we can turn to Tottenham as a fine example. But the Nigerian women's team plays more like Arsenal, who would never be called "profligate" with the parsimonious Wenger at the helm. We all know the purse strings are kept tight chez les Gunners. And then we have the style of play: lots of jaw dropping short little passes right up to the goal. Spectacular to watch. But, as we all know, eventually the odds go against these genius little moves up the field. Every pass is a pass that can go wrong or be interfered with. Every moment you hold onto the ball is a moment a defender has to catch you. The problem, here, then, is not "letting go" but holding on.

I am wondering if, in the case of the Nigerian women's team, this isn't about confidence, and the opportunities a team has to play together. You didn't see Nigeria, for example, making a whole lot of medium or long passes into space - Germany's Stegemann scored off of exactly that kind of optimism ("I know she's on her way, and will be there by the time the ball gets there"), and Marta and Cristiane work off of exactly this kind of confidence in each other ("Marta - draw those three defenders off me, and then cross me the ball!").

Nigeria's problem isn't profligacy - it's the opposite. A fear of letting the ball go. And with so much riding on them - the only African women's football team at the Olympics (and, therefore, the only all black team on the tournament's rosters), who can blame them. Want to talk about parsimony? Let's talk about FIFA's ambivalent support of African football over history, and then let's talk about FIFA's even more ambivalent support of women's football over history, and, well, marry those two histories et voila! You have the special burden of being the only African women's team allowed to take the world stage. Who can blame them for playing a somewhat skeptical game.

Well, there you have it, my reading of one sentence in a FIFA match report. This is what happens when a feminist English professor becomes a fan of the football.

Before I sign off for the day, let me just say some things about today's game. The Super Falcons have super fans! You could hear them shouting, cheering, and singing alongside their own brass & drums band from the start to the finish of the match. And while plainly Cristiane is player of the match, I'd like to give a shout out to Nigeria's Faith Ikidi who got in some technically perfect tackles and was just a hornet in both of the games I was lucky enough to see. She's one of the defenders of the tournament in my eyes.

Cristiane's bicycle kick goal brought tears to my eyes. So amazing, so perfect - she was surrounded by defenders and still got a controlling touch and just sent it over her own body and into the net. I was rooting for Nigeria, but I'm a fan of the beautiful game, and I don't know what's more gorgeous & inspirational than a goal like that. (Note the Nigerian player who nearly takes Cristiane's foot in her face!)

So - here it is [I leave the broken link up, to signal the depressing withdrawal of images of women playing from the internet - with no mass media circulation, with no money riding on the rebroadcasting of women's games, the Olympics Police censoring of fan-produced highlights services the suppression of the women's game more effectively than it protects a fucking Olympics copyright. Sorry for the language, but it makes me very angry that I can't show you that goal. And you can watch three thousand less interesting goals from the EPL whenever you want.]:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympic Women's Soccer: A Day in the Life of the Super Falcons (Nigeria/Germany)

First: Big thanks to Şenol, for recording this game and getting me a copy - no women's football was aired in France today, as far as I can tell!

As I tune in (about 20 minutes into the match), it looks like a normal day in the life of a team playing Germany. Prinz collects the ball at the top of the box, fires a shot with 2 defenders on her, and it goes just over the top. Sigh. Another day at the office.

But, actually, this game is more interesting than that. Germany looks big, strong, and, well, scary. But Nigeria is playing with a lot of energy and creativity: they are just as capable of making havoc. Both teams are really attacking the ball (pictured here, Pingor and Uwak going at it). There is no "watching" the game from the pitch. And they seem to be surprising each other.

Just as I am pouring myself a glass of wine, Nigerian defender Ikidi sends a high lob down the field, it's picked up on the wing and, with a gorgeous flick, the ball slips forward to Super Falcons star Cynthia Uwak (Like a few of her Nigerian teammates, Uwak plays in Sweden, for the Falkopings. She was twice FIFA African woman footballer). Uwak starts on a promising run, and is brought down with a trip, for which Bresonik is given a yellow card. This seems to set the tone for a bit. Nigerian player Ebi gets a card too, just after Garefrekes peels the ball away from her feet. Ebi chases her down, tries to contain her, and trips her up. Laudehr takes Uwak down again a few minutes later. Both teams are working hard to try to prevent the other from playing their game.

It strikes me that in some ways, the Germans seem more unsettled by Uwak than they were against any of the Brazilians. Uwak is really fast on the ball, and has an amazing touch. She is, arguably, the most dangerous player on the pitch in this game (other contenders, Prinz and Nwocha). That said, the Nigerian defenders seem to struggle against Germany's strength and size advantage - there are moments when neither seems to quite know how to play the other.

Anyway, like Uwak, Faith Ikidi also plays for a Swedeish team - Linkopings - and is working her ass off – if the ball makes it down the wing, it’s not on her side of the pitch. She has a nice way of clipping the ball out from players barreling up the field, she has great positioning and a fantastic rapport with those working in her neighborhood. So most of the action looks like the above, but is interrupted by German Smisek getting the ball on the wing, and sending it to the goal, where it is easily picked up by keeper Precious Dede (best name in the Olympics?). Throughout the bit of the first half I saw, Dede looked confident, and was not really challenged.

The first half closes with an exciting give-and-go exchange between Nigeria's Michael and Uwak which ends with Michael surgically threading the ball through three defenders. More bodies start piling in to shut down Uwak who is playing like the ball is velcroed to her feet. Angerer comes out of her goal to remind us why she's the best in the game. She just throws herself over ball before you know what’s happening. It’s surprising, brilliant. Done with total confidence and even a bit of elegance. Drama!

It occurs to me, as I watch this German television broadcast, that the announcers stop calling the game when Nigeria has the ball. (They go totally silent.) I suspect they don't know the players names? It's annoying.

Anyway, new glass of wine in hand: Germany starts the second half with a bang as a dangerous cross to Prinz is deflected by Jermone's hyper-extended foot just - and I do mean JUST - before Prinz gets there. Germany is looking a bit more together. Overall, as the game gets going again, they have far more shots on target but, then again, Dede sees them coming from a mile away.

At 54 minutes, Micheal & Nwocha make a fantastic attack as Michael takes the ball up past two defenders, and takes her shot - Angerer has come out of the goal and deflects the ball, which is picked up promptly by no. 4, who takes another strong shot on target - Angerer, who has been backing up to her line, makes the dive and another unbelievable save.

She is being challenged more by Nigeria than she was by Brazil. Today, both teams are seeming increasingly frustrated by the absence of a goal.

Next thing you know, Nigeria makes another brilliant - and I mean BRILLIANT attack at about 56 minutes, as their midfield scraps the ball forward where it is picked up by Nkwocha, slipped out to Michael on the wing, give-and-go with Nwocha as the two move on the goal - and Michael takes a shot that goes wide of the goal again. ARGH. By the way, Nkwocha (also twice named African women's player of the year) plays in Sweden as well, for Sunnana.

Nasty bit of confusion Nigeria's back line rattles the team as defenders hold the ball too long and then leave it to Dede to sort it out too late - this suggest the door is opening for Germany - but, amazingly Nigeria recovers and spends the next shift in Germany's half, doing their best to work the odds by taking as many shots as they can. Angerer doesn't seem phased in the least. Laudher seems annoyed, however, as she takes a fistful of Uwak's shirt and yanks her to the ground. Nwocha's header off the free kick goes wide. She never really connected with it.

And, well, that's practically the game. It's about 65 minutes, and Germany brings the ball up with clever one-two touch triangles. They bring it all the way down to Nigeria's corner and Mitag (who'd been on the pitch for, like 3 minutes) reaches with her foot to send a gorgeous short cross into space into which materializes Stegemann's foot. Et voila. Chance not wasted. Chance converted into that singular all important point.

Nigeria - and in particular Dede (pictured here) - deserve much credit and admiration for fighting on, and keeping Germany to a single point (Final score: 0-1). Super Falcons: Left Wing sends you her best cross in sympathy! I was rooting for you!

PS: Nadine Angerer looks a lot like Joaquin Pheonix. Don't you think?

[August 12: On their site, FIFA says of this match that Nigeria had poor finishing - they call it "profligacy in front of the goal". But then they also go on and on about Angerer, and wonder if she's on her way to keeping a clean sheet through yet another international tournament. Well: Which is it? Because Nigeria had plenty of shots on target. And you can't have it both ways! Nigeria gave Angerer a much tougher game than Germany gave Dede - though Dede did have some great saves. Anyway, it's just yet another lame moment in the very thin English language reporting on games not involving the US! Angerer is a brilliant keeper. The best teams, the best strikers in the world have failed to convert their 'chances' in front of her.]

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day One: Olympic Women's Football (Brazil/Germany; China/Sweden)

What an interesting day. Given my location & internet connection, I was only able to see Germany/Brazil (0-0) and China/Sweden (2-1). As much as I wish I could have watched North Korea and Nigeria (two really interesting teams for all sorts of reasons - skill, history, international football politics), and I wish I could have seen more than highlights (or, really lowlights) of the US/Norway match (0-2), I have a feeling I may have watched the best matches of the day!

Brazil held Germany to nil - no small accomplishment. If I remember correctly, the only team to do that in the 2007 World Cup was England (on the absence of a UK squad, see this post). Eurosport France announcers called it "un beau match", and it was. Lots of action, some great shots and you could feel the tension right from the outset - Germany's Angerer is a fierce presence in goal, and Brazil seemed intent on letting her know they weren't afraid of her, so she took a bit of a beating in this game (not with shots so much as with strong challenges for the ball).

I like the look of Brazilian midfielder Formiga - always have ("formiga" that means ant, right? her given name is Miraildes Maciel Mota). The lady is not afraid to hold onto the ball - she plays with a lot of confidence and has some nice - actually genius - moves. (Pictured above, as she works her way around Lingerof.) Everybody talks about Marta and Cristiane - but I think Formiga is the glue & the gas. Holds things together and gets things moving.

Anyway, some highlights include a fantastic flying fingertip save from Brazilian keeper Andréia (Did I imagine that? Because I haven't seen it mentioned in coverage so far). I was watching in a local sports bar, and they kept turning off the sound - and looked not so amused that I was there. In any case, I'm not sure whose shot that was (Smisek?). This was followed by a speedy counterattack & gorgeous cross from Marta right across the goal mouth to Cristiane who sent it over the net with a header as she raced into the space.

Toward the end of the first half I found myself thinking Brazil looked more nervous - sending balls too far up the field, kick and run except not really. They gave away a fair amount of balls that way, and you rarely saw Germany making these kinds of mistakes.

That said, Marta looked great - her speed is amazing, and it takes as many as three people to contain her. And Cristiane is an Amazonian warrior. Over all - as clichéd as it is to say this - Brazil was nicer to watch on the ball. Turning, twisting, playful sole-rolls and crazy little flips - plus, they play chancier football. Lots of speed, quick and surprising movements, and an ability to just pluck the ball from the air - they have a lightness of touch that feels risky from the stands if only because it looks like there are moments when no single player HAS the ball - the ball is moving so fast between them.

Germany are confident - they look almost unflappable. They made very few (no?) obvious errors - few careless or pointless passes. You can feel how well they know each other. Plus, they are sneaky as all get out. Don't let the Germanic-machine-myth let you think that this team is predictable. Prinz in particular is so quick with a shot - she shoots through an open space with a lightening reflex, and she's hard to read: she looks very, very hard to defend. One pistol shot from the top of the box went just wide before you knew it'd even left her foot.

Brazil looked fantastic (up to a point) in the second half - it felt like the game was mostly played in Germany's territory. Cristiane had a spectacular shot on goal which deflected off of Angerer (very unusual). Defender Costa followed up with a shot that hit the top right corner of the post and bounced just outside the goal area. Nevertheless, they struggled to convert - as usual, no lucky breaks. But, we make our own luck in this game, no? I kept thinking if Germany had these chances, they'd be up by six. But, amazingly, they hardly seemed get inside the goal's postal code.

Over all, neither team let the other get all that close to the goal. Brazil had more shots on target, but Angerer really never seemed stretched. The last few minutes were pretty boring as both teams seemed content to let the draw stand. It is not right that they are in the same group.

Re: China/Sweden -China looked fantastic, and not just because the Chinese WNT has the best haircuts. Check out defender Li Jie (on the left) - shortlisted for FIFA footballer of the year in 2007 - or forward Han Duan (on the right - who scored the game winner) - also highly ranked in the same year by FIFA. These mug shots from the official Olympics team site don't do them justice. The whole team looked amazing in every single way, and more than half were sporting what I think is called a shag. We see this in England a fair amount - a very punky, scrappy and cool look for the woman athlete who likes her hair and wants to resist the whole pony-tailed "I am not a lesbian" thing.

Based on today's performance, it would make a lot of sense to see the Chinese team in at least a semi-final match. They more or less ran circles around Sweden - they looked more fit, confident, and like they wanted the win more. And, no doubt, they do.

And, lastly, a word about the US defeat today. Why is it that when the US women lose, they look just plain awful? Great teams lose great games all the time. But the USWNT - which rarely loses ever - seems to only lose once in a blue moon in spectacularly bad games - by giving up own goals, making fatal passes, looking like they just woke up. They didn't lose today because Norway played brilliantly. They lost because they made two really nasty errors within 90 seconds of each other. Bad communication, a weak and amateurish pass. Not to sell the historic rivals short, but Norway would have been incompetent had they not capitalized on those errors. They certainly deserve the credit for coming onto the field ready to play!

OK. Back to my day job.
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