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Operative Words: A final reflection on the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup

Now that everyone has had some time to cool off following the Women’s World Cup, it is a good time to reflect on the most important Women’s World Cup to date. Personally, a few days to step away was needed after an exciting but grueling day-to-day schedule of the tournament.

Lasting impressions of teams participating in major tournaments are usually (and unfortunately) broadly sweeping statements. Below is an attempt to modify that trend by associating one operative word with each team and the event itself, but also providing some insight to expand upon the point. Here it goes:

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup – Epic: I don’t think that even does justice to this Women’s World Cup. Americans too often think only with red, white and blue goggles. In those terms, maybe 1999 is still the most memorable tournament, but I don’t buy that. Sure, the final is arguably the most memorable ever, but never has there been such a complete tournament like this. In 1999, we didn’t have wonderful stories like France making the semifinals, Japan winning a world title following devastation or just about every team proving to be competitive. Take that and add on suspenseful games (three of four quarterfinals went to extra time, two of which went to penalty kicks) and this was the best tournament yet. Call me crazy, but I’m already pumped for London 2012 and Canada 2015. But with that said, people need to realize that these stars are playing right here in the U.S. with their WPS teams.

Japan – Inspirational: This team believed in itself from the beginning, even when nobody else did. To defeat host and tournament favorite Germany, Sweden and the United States en route to a first-ever Women’s World Cup title is impressive enough. To do that following the natural disasters that struck Japan is remarkable and inspirational.

USA – Cardiac Kids: The United States women proved that regardless of the result, they will always make sure the match is entertaining. From a quarterfinal win over Brazil that will be recognized for years to come to a stressful seminal victory over France and a tough penalty kick loss to Japan in the final. Even in loss, America has fallen in love with these ladies. Hollywood couldn’t ask for more.

Sweden – Gritty: Sweden is a physical team that does not seem to take no for an answer. Midfielders Caroline Seger and Lisa Dahlqvist were enforcers and creators in the middle and should be proud of their third place finish. The one blemish on the team’s record in the competition was the semifinal loss to Japan, of which nobody should be ashamed.

France – Entertainers: Head Coach Bruno Bini said after losing to the U.S. in the semifinals that he would rather lose with grace than win ugly. Well, he got what he wished for. But France – a young, up and coming team – was arguably the best and most entertaining team in the tournament. Les Bleues played beautiful soccer. The trio of Gaëtane Thiney, Louisa Necib and Marie-Laure Delie was one of the best attacking combinations in the tournament.

Brazil – Unappreciated: Brazil fell from grace in the quarterfinal, blowing a lead in the 122nd minute only to lose to the U.S. on penalty kicks. The fans inside Rudolf-Harbig Stadium whistled and jeered Marta and company for its gamesmanship, an unfortunate way for the world’s No. 3 team to, yet again, fall short.

Australia – Confusing: This word if probably most applicable to the decision making on the field. Defender Servet Uzunlar had a nightmare of a tournament in which she was personally responsible for three of Australia’s seven goals allowed. There were many questionable decisions made on the field throughout the tournament. What this team lacks is maturity in decision making.

England – Inconsistent: Entering the tournament with friendly victories over the U.S. and Sweden, England looked set to make a run in this tournament. The Three Lions started with unconvincing matches against Mexico and New Zealand before defeating Japan to win the group. A gutsy performance got them to penalty kicks against France, where further problems followed (hence their exit from the tournament).

Germany – Burdened: The world’s best athletes have to be able to handle pressure, but the burden on the German Women’s National Team was harsh. Its quarterfinal exit will go down as the biggest disappointment in Women’s World Cup history to date, but it isn’t easy to carry to role of favorite on home soil. Just as U.S. media noted that the American women needed to win for the future of the sport, German media dramatized this World Cup into a larger than life event.

Nigeria – Encouraging: Nigeria did better than expected in the Group of Death. The Super Falcons finished in third place in the Group of Death, which did not see Nigeria get through to the knockout stage but did provide encouragement for the 2012 Olympics.

Canada – Empty: Most players and fans of the Canadians will feel that way after Canada lost all three group stage games. This was a team that was supposed to be a legitimate contender to win the title following a CONCACAF qualifying tournament championship. Beyond Christine Sinclair’s gutsiness and Diana Matheson’s vision, there was little that went right for Canada. Now the head coaching seat of Canada is empty, too. Carolina Morace resigned on Friday.

Mexico – Arrival: Mexico may not have advanced to the knockout stage, but simply qualifying for the tournament and putting in three respectable performances was enough to show that this team has arrived. El Tri is competitive with the United States now and drew with England and a feisty New Zealand in this tournament.

New Zealand – Progress: The goal of the Football Ferns entering this tournament was to show the world that they belong on this stage. After giving Japan a good run for its money, New Zealand was able to end the tournament with two goals in the 90th minute to earn the team its first-ever points in a Women’s World Cup. New Zealand may not have advanced, but they celebrated that dramatic group stage draw with Mexico in style.

Colombia – Expected: Colombia was the worst team in a very competitive tournament, but that was pretty much expected. This is a very young squad that found success in last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup but is still a ways out from translating that into senior level success. Still, young players like Katerin Castro showed hope for the future.

North Korea – Ridiculous: There is no other way to explain Head Coach Kim Kwang Min trying to blame a lightning strike for the team’s 2-0 loss to the U.S. and then blaming that same act of nature for causing five of his players to test positive for banned substances. Let’s get real.

Norway – Lacking: Norway was so underwhelming in this tournament that one had to sit back and wonder whether or not this actually was the country with a storied history that includes a 1995 Women’s World Cup championship. Emily Haavi, 19, was a bright spot, but this team doesn’t look like it will be competitive for a while.

Equatorial Guinea – Añonman: That’s really all you need for this team. Añonman was the best player on this team and scored the team’s only two goals of the tournament. Equatorial Guinea was at times entertaining – both in terms of attacking and providing absurd events like Bruna’s catch and hold hand ball (maybe she was checking to see if the ball needed air?). But Añonman was the main attraction here.

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