Four days of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup are in the books. Every team has played one match, and the only thing that is certain is that this World Cup is trending toward being the most competitive tournament in its history.
In eight matches, only the United States won by multiple goals (topping Korea DPR 2-0 on Tuesday). Only one of the eight — Mexico v. England on Monday (1-1) — resulted in a draw. Five of the eight matches have gone into the half scoreless; only eight matches all tournament were scoreless at the half in the 2007 Women’s World Cup. And while there have been no major upsets to this point, the favorites have been anything but dominant.
We already know about the United States’ struggles. Against the youngest team in the tournament, North Korea, the top-ranked club couldn’t create anything in the first half before Lauren Cheney and Rachel Buehler bailed them out for the win. Outside of the U.S., the other two heavy favorites to hoist the World Cup this year had their own bit of struggles. On Sunday, the host country Germany was pushed by Christine Sinclair and Canada before pulling away for a 2-1 win. Brazil, against a well-organized Australian club, eked out a 1-0 win on Wednesday. Even to a lesser extent, Equatorial Guinea nearly played Norway to a scoreless draw, only to have that taken away from them in the 84th minute when Emilie Haavi put home the lone goal of the match to jump atop the Group D standings through one round of games.
In 2011, it truly is anyone’s tournament to win. But the club that will ultimately be victorious is the one that is the most cohesive unit. Talent across the board in the women’s game is as even as it has ever been, and no one superstar is going to be enough to take her team to the Promised Land. Marta, five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year won’t be enough for Brazil. She’ll need all the help she can get from the likes of Formiga, Cristiane, Maurine, Rosana and company. It’s about 11 players playing as one. Watching Marta try to do it all in the 1-0 win for Brazil over Australia showed that.
Predictions for this tournament have to be thrown out. Yeah, Germany, Brazil and United States may all be in the final four, which was to be expected, but it won’t be with the ease that many thought it would. With all the matches so closely-contested, importance will have to be placed on fundamentals and mental fortitude. Whichever team can play 90 minutes with the fewest mistakes is going to be the one to win this tournament. Teams may be able to get away with mistakes now, but as the tournament grows old, and the better teams remain, mistakes will result in goals the other way.
Every team has played a match. Round two of the group stage begins Thursday. No team is without its flaws, all needing to make adjustments going forward. It’ll be interesting to see if any nation rises to the top heading into the second week of the tournament.
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