Here we look at the three teams after their second round of fixtures.
Brazil is good at home, that much we know. We saw that 18 months ago when Marta transformed herself into a one-woman wrecking ball and tore the U.S. apart in December 2014. But the way Sweden were exposed and completely overrun by the host nation will worry head coach, Pia Sundhage.
Unconvincing in their win over South Africa, the true test in this group was always going to be Brazil. But to come away with a 5-1 humiliation will leave a sour taste in the mouth of Swedish fans. This poor result highlights that the issues that existed in Canada last year haven’t been resolved. Fragile at the back, the Swedes conceded nine goals in four matches at last year’s tournament, seven of those in two matches. The Equalizer wrote about the experienced spine of the team before the tournament began, and while their class in without question, does the team rely on them too heavily?
The Swedes looked almost pedestrian at times, and although Lotta Schelin did score in the closing moments, few will see that as a consolation. There are suggestions this will be Sundhage’s last tournament with her home nation. A poor performance against a good China side and she could be remembered for what she didn’t achieve with Sweden rather than what she did accomplish with the U.S.
Historically, the Germans have been known for overpowering their opponents in the attack while being resolute and robust when defending their own 18-yard line. This team seems to have one area addressed, but not the other when assessing their opening two matches. They’ll be disappointed to have conceded against minnows Zimbabwe and the way they had to claw their way back against Australia was very unlike the Germans.
In truth, Australia could have had four or five goals had they been more composed in front of goal – and that is no exaggeration. Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord pulled the German defense all over the park and Foord, in particular, found space in behind the German backline on numerous occasions, but couldn’t find the killer finish.
To be 2-0 down shocked German supporters, but the comeback will have inspired confidence against a side many are tipping as outsiders for a medal. While the backline is questionable, the players Germany has to change a game is not. What Sara Dabritz was able to conjure up before halftime was a testament to that strength. Her strike will be a contender for goal of the tournament and came at a crucial time, straight after Caitlin Foord had given the Aussies a 2-0 lead.
Silvia Neid’s halftime team talk was likely much different than it would have been had they gone in 2-0 down, but there’s no question she’ll be a relieved woman after Saskia Bartusiak’s leveler late on and the catalog of misses at the other end by Australia. Teams such as Brazil, France, and the U.S. will be more clinical in front of goal if they come up against Germany, so Neid must work on defensive organization, especially with the sprightly Canadians and Janine Beckie up next.
France has a reputation for being technically gifted, and they showed that again against the U.S., despite not getting the result. A minority question Hope Solo’s tag as the number one goalkeeper in the world due to the comrades she has in front of her, but she showed why she has 102 clean sheets with a dominating performance.
The French, on another day, could and probably would have won this one. They kept the ball superbly and got in behind the U.S. defense on a number of occasions. But when Solo denied Marie-Laure Delie in the first half as she looked almost certain to score, you got the feeling this wasn’t going to be France’s day.
What we can say is that France is the one side who don’t allow the U.S. to boss matches like they do against the majority of the world. France keeps the ball, plays it short, and looks to unlock the defense through patient build up, or by using their pace down the flanks.
What they don’t have arguably, though, is the big game player like a Solo or Carli Lloyd, who ultimately won the game for the current gold medalists with their contributions at opposing ends of the field. That’s not to say the quality isn’t there in the French team, it is, in abundance. But, when the big games arrive and France need someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, it’s unknown who that player will be.
However, France will be encouraged by their performance and it bodes well for the rest of the competition. They should overcome New Zealand without any issues, especially with Abby Erceg’s suspension. They will finish second behind the U.S., with their medal prospects still very much alive.
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