Group G Olympic preview: France takes another shot at USWNT

Ray Curren August 2, 2016 57

160802 Group G(In predicted order of finish.)

It has been a while since the United States has been as prohibitive a favorite in a major tournament as they are in Brazil. Yes, they are three-time defending Olympic champions, but had been coming off a loss in the previous three. Last year’s World Cup seemed like a foregone conclusion in retrospect, but it was far from it before a ball was kicked. So the U.S. has the burden of expectations on its shoulders, and that hasn’t always been its best friend as catastrophic failures (a pair of lopsided losses by a combined seven goals) in the 2003 and 2007 World Cup can attest to.

[MORE: Rapinoe doesn’t expect to play in Olympic opener]

But there is so much talent, far more than Jill Ellis can use at one time, and really no weaknesses in the entire 18 to speak of, save for Megan Rapinoe getting back to full fitness. You can say they haven’t scored a ton of goals in the lead-in matches, but Ellis will throw some combination of Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh, Tobin Heath, Crystal Dunn, Christen Press, and – of course – Carli Lloyd out there, so keeping them off the board for 90 minutes will be some kind of accomplishment for anyone, let alone the teams in the rest of this group. Will someone (Germany? France? Brazil? Australia?) be able to turn the table and exploit maybe – really small maybe, their only Achilles’ heel – the lack of a holding midfielder? It could happen, obviously, but the current odds are strongly against it.

We’ve been waiting for France to break through and win (or even make the final) of a major tournament. And waiting. And waiting. Their rise to power and style of play continues to be attractive and commendable, but there has been: 2011 World Cup semifinal loss to the U.S., 2012 Olympic semifinal loss to Japan (and defeat to Canada in bronze medal match); loss to Denmark (in penalties) in 2013 Euro quarterfinal; and another loss to Germany (in penalties) last summer in Canada.

[MORE: Group E preview  |  Group F preview]

You could make a case that the last two in particular were extremely unlucky in matches in which France clearly outplayed their opponent. So maybe it’s finally their time when very few people are putting them on the medal stand? The names are largely unchanged: Elodie Thomis, Louisa Necib, Amandine Henry, Eugenie Le Sommer, and they should at least avenge last summer’s embarrassing defeat to Colombia. But their possession-based 4-2-3-1 does not match up well with the high pressuring, ball-hawking Americans and second place in this group likely gives the Germany in the quarterfinals. But as I said, maybe it’s their time to upset someone in the knockout rounds?

There are a few new faces on the New Zealand roster, but you’ll probably recognize most when they take the field Wednesday against the U.S. Despite being a regular since Australia left the Oceania region for Asia and largely being competitive against everyone, the Ferns have only won 1 of their 23 matches (1-14-8) at major tournaments. That one did come at the last Olympics where a win over Cameroon allowed them to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time, where they lost to the United States (2-0).

There’s no doubt they’ll be pesky again, but can they get a result against the United States or France. Probably not, although their path forward probably includes a draw against one of those teams and a victory over Colombia. If you’re looking for blowouts, New Zealand likely won’t accommodate you; the last time the Ferns were beaten by more than a goal in a group-stage match of a major tournament was the 2008 Olympics when the U.S. beat them 4-0 (on goals from Lindsay Tarpley and Angela Hucles as well as a Heather O’Reilly tally just seconds into the game). Abby Erceg and Ali Riley will keep the back in line, but they’ll need someone (Katie Bowen? Hannah Wilkinson?) to score goals.

You can read about the somewhat discouraging story of Colombia here, but if they can somehow find the swagger they had at last year’s World Cup, they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with, even in this rough group. Colombia did an excellent job defensively last summer, but that was nowhere to be seen in recent friendlies against the United States, and they are woefully short of preparation games, forced to play a pair of games against the Venezuela U-20s last month to get on the field.

Lady Andrade and Catalina Usme both have the potential to score, but without proper practice time and some internal strife involved getting paid (as well as an injury to Yoreli Rincon), it’s hard to see Colombia matching the magic of Canada last year. But it’s not like many people gave them a great chance then, either, so maybe they’ll put that giant chip back on their shoulder and shock some people.

[MORE: Can Colombia duplicate World Cup magic in Brazil?]

  • AnotherGuest

    Here is a good article on the US tactics for anyone interested. It reads to me like the US Ellis has put a focus on attacking quickly and quickly recovering possession after the ball is lost. So pretty much what we’ve been seeing with probably more pressing than we saw at SBC. I expect the team to look like they did in the second Japan game against any of the tough opponents.

    http://www.fourfourtwo.com/us/features/jill-ellis-uswnt-tactics

    • kernel_thai

      I ran that article thru Google Translate and it came back with Play Weak Teams. The upshot seems to be pressure = mistakes = easy goals which is hardly ground breaking but how does having that strategy help u against teams who wont roll over if u pressure them? How does it work against teams who bunker and try and frustrate u into a mistake? In the 43 seconds example Ellis used the Dunn goal as proof of a working strategy. It went like this…Pugh stole the ball and it came to Morgan who had it poked away. The Costa Rican player then turned it back over to Morgan who sent in back to Horan, then up to Morgan who made a great pass to spring Kling and Dunn got the bunny. But on a better team the player doesnt give it back to Morgan she passes it ahead starting a counter.

      • AnotherGuest

        I think the idea is that most teams that opt to bunker against the US don’t really have the players to effectively counter. However, teams the rely heavily on counter-pressing to creat the majority of their chances can be neutralized an beaten by teams with solid, compact shapes that sit deeper and counter as the opportunities arise. The teams that worry me are France and Australia. Brazil can hurt the US with their speed as well but in the VT games last year they held a very high line to press high and got exposed in transition. Sweden is also a team that could also definitely frustrate the US.

        • Steglitz49

          The only team with the character to beat the US is Germany but their squad does not inspire confidence.

          In WC-11 Sweden beat the US but fortunately for the US it was in the group stage. In WC-15 Sweden tied with the US, again in the group stage. Again, given the bizarre selection of Pia, it is hard to see what Sweden might achieve.

          • Guest

            Germany has the finishers and the mentality but I think there is a reason they haven’t beaten the US team in a long time. Their current team seems to lack pace on the back line and like to hold a high line. That is seriously playing with fire against the US. Morgan skinned their center halves at SBC.

          • Steglitz49

            Germany lost 0-1 to Japan on home soil in WC-11. It ought to have been a wake-up call. It wasn’t.

            Granted Nadine Kessler missed WC-15 because of injury and Lira Alushi because of pregnancy.

            Of their 2012 and 2014 U20 only a couple have made the Rio squad. I presume those absent are injured. Däbritz ought to start for them but I doubt she will.

      • mockmook

        I’d say it was more than that.

        Seems they are emphasizing possession and possession with a purpose — don’t just spray the ball forward and hope something good happens — make every pass count and make it quickly.

    • HOFCToDi

      Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and the importance of ‘gegenpressing’

      theguardian.com/football/blog/2015/oct/16/jurgen-klopp-liverpool-gegenpressing-borussia-dortmund

    • Craigaroo

      HOFCToDi posted a link to an excellent podcast analyzing the US a couple days ago. I don’t always approve of his/her style of posting, but this was an excellent recommendation that recognized good substance. I’ll let him/her repost the link if they care to. Otherwise I may plug it in a little later.

    • Steglitz49

      The US are überfavorites for this gold. They have so much firepower in attack and midfield that scoring goals should not be a problem.

      It is hard to see any team holding a candle to the USWNT. Only some extraneous issue, like food poisoning or some other acute illness can derail this train.

      The US not winning this gold would be a greater upset than Hungary failing in WC-54.

      • Guest

        I think the US can be frustrated by a team like England who can high press them effectively enough to hold the US to a draw. Sweden also was very effective at the WC against the US playing numbers behind the ball and looking for opportunities to counter. Sweden however did not have to play against Alex, Tobin, Mallory or Crystal in that game and definitely would in any matchup at the Olympic barring any injuries.

        • Steglitz49

          I think that was my point. Most teams would be pleased to have one of the four musketeers you name and we have not even named Lindsey and Moe.

          Only a freak event can stop the US. Whether that will mean curtains for WoSo at the OG is a good question.

        • Oregon

          Sweden looking underwhelming right now vs (#56?) South Africa!
          Hanging on though.

      • dw

        We have so much firepower, yet scoring goals somehow always seems to be a problem.

        0-0 draw with Ferns not out of the question (far from it).

        • Steglitz49

          5-2 against Japan in the last WC-final and 2-0 against Germani the SF.

          If the US does not beat NZ 3-0, they are underperforming.

    • HOFCToDi

      Jurgen Klopp – Football Philosophy – Full Documentary 2016

      youtube.com/watch?v=0aIxmu44gDM
      14:20

    • sudeep das

      It’s a great article.

    • ARED

      That is nice most of all because it seems to be an actual in-depth interview with Ellis where she is going into a little more depth about her ideas -and her methods and specific instruction to the players.

      However I must say I actually find it quite hollow. Quote after quote seem somewhere between PR trying to retrospectively explain some of the poor WC decisions with revisionist history or just outright lies (or “mistruths”).
      Or a common thing with Ellis: she says something which is true but her actions don’t support these truths (or her claims about how she wants to play).

      “…but the experience (Abby) could bring to the team was necessary to win the World Cup.” — Necessary? I don’t think so…

      “be smart about position and pressure; balance patience and pace; know when to pass and when to dribble”. — I would say this is important, and one of the USA’s biggest weaknesses under Ellis. Hmm….

      “Are they dwelling on the ball? Are they taking too many touches?”. — Again, an important concern, but also a description of Lloyd’s game -the player Ellis has put at the forefront of her team.

      I will say that the USA has improved in many of these areas since 2015, so if this is meant to promote the “new USA” style it’s slightly less glaring, but it still seems there is a disconnect to me.

      • Guest

        I think the explaination of the tactics are for the most part what I have observed. It seems like managing the veterans is still very much a part of Ellis’ job description right now like it was at the WC. Player selection on gameday is likely still impacted by those politics. I can see Long and Pugh starting over Horan and Dunn but not anyone over Lloyd(at least not to start the tournament).

  • kernel_thai

    Still dont think Germany is ready but maybe if Maroszan and other younglings put the team on their shoulders. Germany is great at clubbing baby seals but they r going to have to swim with the sharks to win and they need to score goals not just get PKs.

    • ARED

      I agree -they were lucky to beat France, and unlucky to lose to the USA. They are always solid, and will be again. But I don’t see them getting the luck their way 2-3 matches in a row.

    • MurderOnZidanesFloor

      Agree with this. Kessler and Sasic were the real stars of their ‘generation’, without them its up to some still very young German players to step up and I doubt they are ready just yet. In fact I doubt some (Dabritz) will even get much of a shot, while others (Bremer) haven’t even made the squad.

      • Steglitz49

        The German squad is even more bizarre than the Swedish one. I can only presume that injuries have laid waste to Bremer and Petermann and the likes. Däbritz should start. She should have started in WC-15.

    • I agree, I would rank France well ahead of Germany at this point. If they play again, I expect France to win.

    • Tom F

      unfortunately Marozsan is the only “younglings” that got picked for their Olympic. Otherwise Neid’s going with the same old gang that’s been by her side most of her career, for just one last hurrah. Her short passing, take charge of the midfield, with no counter attacking options, is made to order for US, that’s why she can’t beat us. Hopefully their new coach for next year, Steffi Jones, will take them out of the predictability that Neid’s stuck them with for the last few years

  • HOFCToDi

    The Total Soccer Show

    USWNT 2016 Olympics Preview: 10 Things to Watch for

    totalsoccershow.com/podcasts/uswnt-2016-olympics-preview-10-things-to-watch-for/

  • HOFCToDi

    The Total Soccer Show

    USWNT Olympic preview w/ Step Yang

    totalsoccershow.com/podcasts/schweinsteigers-locker-usmnt-golden-generation-uswnt-olympic-preview-w-step-yang/

    21:25

  • Movement

    USWNT vs. Brazil.
    Knockout stage.
    It’ll be the most insane thing talked about since the JFK assassination, or 9/11.
    The most exciting sporting event ever played, men or women. Unbelievable.

    • HOFCToDi

      youtube.com/watch?v=ac1SG9Htpds

    • Steglitz49

      Some would say that the knock-out stages of WC-11 was an apex. Some would say they were right.

      The only excitement in WoSo in Rio would be if the US did not win gold.

      Now, if Lars Lagerbäck was in charge of Sweden, that might have been interesting.

    • NYRick

      Probably third to be fair. You are forgetting Ali-Frazier I at MSG in 1971 and the US-USSR Miracle on Ice game at OG in 1980.

      • Steglitz49

        8-1 in 1981 was a bit too boring and the Canadians still have not recovered poor lambs.

  • HOFCToDi

    youtube.com/watch?v=Kqe9n7zvnnw
    1:40 Starting XI

  • MurderOnZidanesFloor

    “keeping them off the board for 90 minutes will be some kind of accomplishment for anyone, let alone the teams in the rest of this group.”

    “their possession-based 4-2-3-1 does not match up well with the high pressuring, ball-hawking Americans.”

    These statements are not how I see the US vs France match up at all. France is solid defensively (minus Bouhaddi), and very nearly kept the US out for 90 minutes in the SBC, without even having Henry or Renard on the pitch. Furthermore in the SBC game they didn’t have a problem dealing with the US pressuring them, they created ample opportunities to win the game and really should have been 2 or 3 up by the time the US really got going. France are the most dangerous opponent for the US, I think if anyone can beat the US at this tournament it will be France. Both should go through no problem though, and I’d still back the US to find form when it really matters rather than France.

    My prediction for the group would be France first, USA second, although these are pretty interchangeable and it might even go to goal difference between them. With New Zealand third and Colombia fourth, again its close but both will be heading straight home as they won’t be likely to pick up any points off the big sides, and they won’t be able to rack up the goal difference against each other the way teams will against say Zimbabwe.

    Having said that I’m supporting New Zealand in this tournament so hopefully I’ve got it all wrong and they win 3 from 3, with Hannah Wilkinson and Rosie White scoring the goals to send either France or the US home early!

    • Guest

      France is a very good team and one who I think has the best chance to beat the US. However, they didn’t have to deal with the US high press at SBC and neither did England. The US didn’t really press until the Germany game and that might have been influenced by the change in personnel for that game(Heath, Pugh, and Horan didn’t start). That being said, if there is any team that has the central midfielders to deal with the US pressure I think France does.

      • Oregon

        Still think China – and Japan, though not in this equation – dealt extremely well with the US.

        • Guest

          China played with numbers behind the ball and waited to counter. Japan did not handle the US press well at all in the second friendly. The US hardly pressed them at all in the first. I’ll admit that Japan is a possibility but a lot of things need to go right for them to get a result against the US

    • Craigaroo

      Remember, two of the 3rd-place teams in group play advance to the knockout stage

      • MurderOnZidanesFloor

        My expectation is the two best third placed teams will be in the other two groups as teams will pick up easier wins and improved goal difference against the lower ranked African teams.

        • ARED

          Hopefully not, but perhaps. Just another flaw of the format for me….

    • Tom F

      France has the right amount of technical, athletic players, but their not used to from playing 2nd/3rd teams(like for Euro qualifiers) to all of a sudden switching to a team as fast as the US. But Goerg’es injury might be a blessing in disguise as now they can bring up the much vaunted, Mbock into the starting lineup

  • NYRick

    Question:

    If THIS US team wins gold here in Rio, are they the greatest national women soccer team ever? This is kind of based on the back to back thing with the WC and OG. They certainly are talent-laden, but would this cement their place in history. Because I think they are playing for history in this tournament more than anything.

    • Steglitz49

      No.

    • I think so. Name another one who has been as successful? Algarve 2015, WWC 2015 and if they win, OG 2016. (And #SheBelieves 2016) – that’s winning every major or non-major tournament they’ve entered in, in the past 2 years. It will be a huge feat if they can pull this off.

      • mockmook

        “winning every major or non-major tournament they’ve entered in, in the past 2 years.”

        Not quite true.

        International Tournament of Brasilia (December 2014)

        • Ah yes, how could I forget. Thanks for pointing it out. That was not a good showing at all in Brazil.

    • Gary Diver

      Isn’t this a little premature? I’d be more concerned what about happens Saturday against France.

    • ARED

      I agree historical considerations would come with a win, but I think the turnover between 2015 and 2016 alone makes it a bit odd. And while there was some turnover, really the USA of the 1990’s still has a huge hold, having won 2 of three WCs, and the Gold in 1996. The core of that team (Akers, Hamm, Foudy, Lilly, Scurry, Fawcett, etc) will be hard to beat as a generation.

      I felt that Holiday, Heath, Morgan, Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn, Solo, etc. had a strong chance to surpass that era, but all of those players faced at least one )if not several) significant setback in being benched/cut/moved/etc, preventing them from ever really taking control of the team, and from winning the WC in 2011 (I believe). If they had won 2011, 2012, and 2015 they’d be well on their way to greatest ever….2016 would have probably cemented it.

      Germany and Japan may have a case, while some may say China or Norway do to (not me). I think about any others…,

  • I love and hate that the US is being so highly touted in almost every media outlet. The expectations are more than high. I think we all need to reign it in a bit and give the field some credit. Not to say I don’t expect us to be on the top of the podium on August 19th, but there are several possibilities to change that. Either way, it’s gonna be a fun two and a half weeks.

    • Gary Diver

      “Pride goeth before the fall.” People should keep in mind that based on media and public expectations, the US men’s basketball team should have cruised to gold at every summer Olympics. In the end, you’ve got to go out and win it on the field.

      • AlexH

        I don’t think the team itself is being prideful, just everybody in the media, internet and every so called expert. I think the team is confident but they deserve to be given that all indications are that they are the best team.

        • Also are very good about saying “we are taking it one game at a time, and our end goal is to win the Gold, but we are far from that now”

    • ARED

      I always appreciate the modest and non-presuming approach -even from big teams/favorites like the USA.

      I think it’s interesting that this is in a stark contrast to the past WCs, where the same level of praise seemed to be given to the USA -despite not actually having earned it in previous WCs. But for the Olympics they the strong history, and, after having won last year and with Japan not in Rio, well, suffice it to say I think this is the most deserving they’ve been of the “favorite” tag since at least 1999.

  • AlexH

    The real question is, “Does the USA have an extra gear for the knockout stage that they normally don’t show during friendlies” I am pretty sure that their opponents are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the ladies every time they play the USA, but I think that the USA tends to cruise during these games. That is just my opinion, time will tell but I fully expect the USA to kick it up a notch as the tournament progresses.

    • I think so too. They usually do find that extra gear when they are pushed. Something about the mentality of this team, they always find a way to dig deeper. It’s actually crazy, when I think about this tournament, I can’t imagine what it would be like for them to not win gold. Since I started following the USWNT pretty religiously, (before London 2012), they haven’t lost a major tournament. I don’t to know what it’s like..

  • AlexH

    I think the weak link in the team is Julie Johnston. She is the one player that is in a position to cost the team the gold that I am not 100% sold on. Hopefully her game has become more consistent so her errors in the WC semis and final will not be repeated, but if they are repeated we can’t count on red cards being withheld, PK’s being missed and team mates getting hat tricks to bail us out.

    • ARED

      I can see why you would say this -certainly Johnston has that wild element to her game. Usually it works great, but always possible it costs you in a big moment.

      I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see either CB caught in a tough moment, and actually would lean toward Sauerbrunn of the two. I think both are elite CBs, but suffer from playing 90% of their USA matches in a fake comfort zone. Then, against top teams they have to raise their game and also understand you cannot play the same way you might against weaker opponents when it comes to decision-making and risk-taking. And Sauerbrunn, great as she is, lacks the speed/athleticism to make up for a bad step/read like Johnston does.