Playing with 10 women for 22 minutes, Sweden defeated France 2-1 in the third place game on Saturday. That sends Sweden home at least slightly happy with its finish and serves as an unfortunate ending to an incredible tournament for France. It also means that just one game remains in this Women’s World Cup: The final between the United States and Japan.
It is one of (if not the) biggest match in the history of the United States Women’s National Team because of how much a win would mean for the future of the sport in this country. It is easily the biggest game in the history of Japan, which has never played in an Olympic or Women’s World Cup final. Japan is also playing to further lift the spirits of a country that has been through so much tragedy this year.
With so much to talk about on this penultimate day of the tournament, I contemplated a “10 Talking Points” post to note the most important topics entering the Women’s World Cup final, but there is so much more to talk about than can fit into a formalized post. Suffice to say, these are the most important topics heading into the final:
- You can check out my USA-Japan preview for Fox Soccer here. For those who think that the United States actually dominated France, which seems to be a topic coming up in the comments section there: Get real. The U.S. won and that’s all that matters, but the French completely controlled a good 60 minutes of the match.
- The 12 finalists for the FIFA Golden Ball (tournament’s best player) have been announced. They are: Marta (Brazil), Sonia Bomastor (France), Louisa Necib (France), Kerstin Garefrekes (Germany), Aya Miyama (Japan), Homare Sawa (Japan), Shinobu Ohno (Japan), Caroline Seger (Sweden), Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Hope Solo (USA), Abby Wambach (USA) and Lauren Cheney (USA). Some thoughts on this list:
- First, there is just one defender (Bompastor) on the list in a tournament where the leading goal-scorers (Marta and Sawa) have just four goals. There were some great defensive displays in this tournament from the U.S. and Japan in particular. Why is Ohno on this list and not defender Saki Kumagai?
- Yes, Wambach is the poster player of U.S. Soccer right now, but as of right now, Sawa is the player of the tournament and should win the Golden Ball. Sunday’s game could certainly change that, but Sawa’s four goals are matched with the game-winning assist against Germany and incredible leadership on a very unified team.
- Cheney is a breakout player in this tournament. Seriously, just let this statement sink in: Lauren Cheney is on the short list for the Golden Ball as a midfielder. If anybody could have dared to predict that prior to the tournament…well, they couldn’t. Cheney, known as a target forward on the outside looking into the starting line-up, has been morphed into this incredibly dynamic wide midfielder who gives the U.S. more of a 4-3-3 look as she pushes forward and overlaps Wambach and Amy Rodriguez. What an incredible story.
- And speaking of Wambach: Yesterday I posted about how social media has brought the Women’s World Cup to an all-time high. Today, Abby Wambach joined Twitter and within an hour she had nearly 3,000 followers. That number will continue to shoot up.
- Necib left Saturday’s third place match in the 32nd minute due to injury, which is an absolute shame. She’s been one of the most entertaining players in the World Cup with her great free kicks and quick, crafty play. She is a finalist for the Golden Ball, but a serious long shot after not being able to do much of anything.
- And I still can’t decide whether I am more impressed with Necib or her teammate, Gaëtane Thiney. The latter was incredible throughout the tournament and more of a threat around goal, whereas Necib was a playmaker.
- Speaking of awards, Australian Caitlin Foord won the Hyundai Best Young Player Award. I can’t really argue with that, but there were a lot of great young players in this tournament. Check out my All-Eliminated Team for more on that.
- Five North Korean players tested positive for banned substances and, yet again, lightning was blamed. You really can’t make this up.
- Lotta Schelin’s opening goal in Sweden’s 2-1 win over France on Saturday in the third place game came on the 25th-straight touch by a Swedish player. That’s a team goal.
- At least initially, the Women’s World Cup is having a huge effect on WPS. Boston Breakers ticket sales are up 400 percent and Wednesday’s match between magicJack and the Western New York Flash in Rochester (Wambach’s homecoming) has an outside shot at breaking the all-time WPS attendance record. There have already been 9,000 tickets sold for Wednesday’s match in a stadium that holds 13,500 but can hold more with temporary seating. The record crowd came in the league’s inaugural game between the LA Sol and the Washington Freedom when 14,832 showed up to the Home Depot Center on March 29, 2009.
- And again, to emphasize, Sunday’s match is about more than just soccer for Japan. The whole country is in need of a success story amidst hard times.
- Finally, below is my Best XI of the tournament (starting at the back with the goalkeeper). This was one incredibly hard list to compile.
———————————————–Hope Solo (USA)——————————————————
Ali Krieger (USA)—-Christie Rampone (USA)—-Saki Kumagai (Japan)—-Sonia Bompastor (France)
Lauren Cheney (USA)—-Lisa Dahlkvist (Sweden)—-Homare Sawa (Japan)—-Louisa Necib (France)
—————————-Abby Wambach (USA)———–Marta (Brazil)————————————–
Just missing the cut (and I mean just) – Kerstin Garefrekes (Germany), Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Gaëtane Thiney (France)
I realize that Best XI is very heavy on Americans, but can you really take any of those five off the list? Let me answer for you: No. There’s a reason the U.S. and Japan are in the final.
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