It was worth getting up at 3 in the morning. And it was a deserved win for Spain. England played well enough to make it interesting, but really, Spain looked the better team. The best description was on Twitter, where one person said, "Spain’s passing is how the US used to move the ball. Sigh." Two-time US World Cup champion Julie Foudy replied, "Very kind, but we have never moved the ball like Spain does... their grace on the ball is gorgeous to watch."
Aitana Bonmatí won the Golden Ball as the best player, but don't sleep on Teresa Abelleira, Jenni Hermoso (despite her penalty miss in the final, her 3 goals and 2 assists matched Aitana's), and 23-year-old Olga Carmona, a defender who scored two wonderful goals. England's Mary Earps won the Golden Glove as the best keeper, Japan's Hinata Miyazawa won the Golden Boot, and Spain teenager Salma Paralluelo was named the Young Player of the Tournament.
No one was more excited than Natalia Astrain, the Telemundo color commentator who is from Spain:
Part of the joy of a World Cup is watching a gazillion matches, and that's a joy I've missed out on because of the time difference between Australia/New Zealand and Berkeley. I've managed to see some good games and have spent a lot of time watching highlights, but that's not the same. But I got up in the wee hours to see Spain defeat Sweden, and this morning (or more accurately, tomorrow morning) I will be up at 3:00 AM to watch the final between Spain and England. I have no idea who will win, but it's always nice to have a rooting interest, and as has been the case for a long time in international soccer, after the USA falls short, I have Spain to fall back on.
Meanwhile, I was up at 7:00 this morning to watch Wrexham. The difference between the Wrexham of the past decade-plus and now is evident in the quality of the telecasts ... it's not just the professional camerawork, it's the fact that there is more than one camera at a match. The highlight post on YouTube wins this week's award for hyperbole: the video is called "BEST GAME EVER?!", when it is more on target to say "Worst Defending Ever". But it certainly was exciting.
Daniella López Guajardo is becoming my favorite part of this World Cup. She begins each match with some variation on "Este es el juego que conecta a todas las almas en el planeta y se llama fútbol." This is the game that connects all the souls on the planet and it is called soccer. Here she is announcing Australia's win over Denmark:
For the first time during the tournament, I got up in the middle of the night specifically to watch a match: Sweden-USA. First, hats off to Zecira Musovic, the Swedish goalkeeper who made 11 saves in the 120 minutes that preceded penalties. Amazingly, she didn't make a single save in the penalty shootout that resulted in the Americans' elimination ... each miss by the U.S. came from poorly-kicked balls, Musovic never touched any of them. Swedish coach Peter Gerhardsson offered an interesting theory on what happened to the USA:
I don't know what [Musovic] did, what mental thing that she did to make them put them over the bar and things like that.... She was good in the game. Even if she didn't save any penalties, I think for the other team, maybe they put it outside because they know that if it's not a good penalty, maybe she takes it.
I leave it to others, more expert at soccer analysis, to explain what went wrong for the Americans. It's ironic that the U.S. keeper, Alyssa Naeher, had the best performance of the goalies on the penalties. She saved two, and even stepped to take one for her team, which she made.
The U.S. played their best game of the Cup, and they leave having not lost any matches in regular time. After beating Vietnam 3-0 to start, they had three straight draws, not scoring in either of the last two matches. It's kinda hard to win if you don't score.
Why didn't they score? I have my opinions, but they're not that informed ... I'm just a guy who watches matches. To my eye, the players didn't seem to fit comfortably into the scheme provided by coach Vlatko Andonovski. Alex Morgan is the best example on the offense ... I don't think she played that badly, she was offside a bit too often, but she had her chances, and against Sweden, again you tip your cap to Musovic. Morgan, like a lot of the players, seemed to tire ... she's 34 years old, she played 342 minutes over 4 games. If I take one memory away from the U.S. in this World Cup, it's that Andonovski seemed to forget he was allowed to make substitutions. He made the allowed five subs against Vietnam, then made only one sub against the Netherlands, bringing on Rose Lavelle at the half. He again made all 5 subs against Portugal, but two came in the 84th minute, and two more came in added time. Finally, against Sweden, he subbed in Lynn Williams in the 66th minute, then nothing until the extra time, when he took off Morgan for Megan Rapinoe in the 99th minute. He made no other subs in the 120-minute match, other than to add two good penalty takers in the 120th minute.
Is any of this relevant to why they couldn't score? You got me. The easier explanation is probably the best: the rest of the world has caught up with the USA in women's soccer.
In the first of the rare posts I've made about this World Cup, I only mentioned one player: Sam Kerr of Australia. I quoted Michael Cox:
Everything is set up for Sam Kerr to have a tournament incomparable with anything else any women’s footballer has experienced. The obvious poster girl for a tournament played in her home nation, Kerr can reasonably claim to be the most dangerous striker in the game.
Australia won 2 of their 3 group stage matches to advance (co-hosts New Zealand were not as fortunate ... they are 3-and-out). They won their group, thus winning the opportunity to play Denmark in the next round. Sadly, Sam Kerr was injured just before the tournament started ... she has yet to play (curse of the blog, I guess).
That's the bad news. The good news is that Australia won their group anyway, and rumors are Kerr will be available to play against Denmark.
Meanwhile, Brazil was eliminated in the group stage, meaning Marta has played her last game in a World Cup. Marta is the GOAT in women's soccer. She finishes her international career with 115 goals for Brazil. She scored 17 goals in World Cups, a record. I've posted this many times in many places over the years ... this all-time Marta World Cup goal:
And there's the USA. They were unbeaten during group play, yet everyone agrees they were subpar, and they are likely to be underdogs against Sweden in the next round.
It's been a pleasure hearing so many women's voices coming from the announcer's booth during this World Cup. Perhaps my favorite is Daniella López Guajardo. My viewing is erratic because of the time zone difference, but I think she is the only woman doing play-by-play in Spanish (there are lots of women doing color commentary, and there are some fine women doing PBP in English). López Guajardo has the enthusiasm of the best Spanish-language announcers, as can be seen/heard in this recap of the great Germany-Colombia match:
In 2002, I struggled to watch all of the matches in the World Cup, because it was played in Japan and South Korea, so most of the matches took place in the middle of the night in Berkeley. I did what I could.
Now it's 2023, and the Women's World Cup is being held in Australia and New Zealand, and the same problem occurs. Probably the biggest difference is that I am now 70 years old, not 49, and while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. So I've only seen a few complete matches live, relying instead on highlight reels and radio broadcasts (where I inevitable fall asleep).
So I have little to say about the tournament, because I am experiencing it in a cut-and-paste way.
Here's are the highlights from Panama-Jamaica, wherein Jamaica picked up their very first World Cup win:
There is a lot of soccer going on right now. The World Cup continues to be a difficult watch here in the Pacific Time Zone. I got to watch the USA-Vietnam match, with Andres Cantor on the call (the U.S. did their job but weren't overwhelming, credit to the Vietnamese). I've caught bits and pieces of other matches. The oddest thing comes in the middle of the night. I have my bedside radio set to the SiriusXM channel that simulcasts the Fox Sports TV broadcasts, and I have my little "pillow speaker" so I can hear without bothering my wife. So a couple of times, I've woken to the voices of Kate Scott and Danielle Slaton, not an experience I've had before.
Meanwhile, Wrexham are touring the United States, which remains rather unfathomable. They lost 5-0 to what amounted to a Chelsea youth squad, and won 4-0 to a third tier LA Galaxy team. I can't say I know what this means about the quality of play in England's fourth division (League Two), where Wrexham will play this year. Saying they aren't as good as Chelsea is obvious. Saying they are better than a team that is two levels below MLS doesn't say enough. Eyeballing it, I think it's clear Wrexham is not yet up to the level of MLS yet ... I'm not sure how the English Championship (their second level) would fare against MLS. Whatever ... it's fun seeing Wrexham play in front of their new American fans.
But the biggest non-World Cup soccer news came when Lionel Messi made his debut for Inter Miami. He came off the bench in the second half. The place was packed, including attendees like LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, David Beckham, and Posh Spice. A tie game, extra time, last play of the match before it went into penalty kicks, and Miami got a free kick. Of course, we know what had to happen next:
The match between Spain and Costa Rica had special significance for Bay Area fans, thanks to the announcing team of Kate Scott and Danielle Slaton. Scott has been a trendsetter for a long time, going back to her time as a student at Cal, where she was a Mass Comm major. She has a number of firsts in her career, and among other things is currently the television play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. We first met in the stands at Spartan Stadium during an Earthquakes match, and it has been a delight to watch her career blossom. Slaton is from San Jose and played her college soccer at Santa Clara. A former national team member, she has become well-known to local fans for her commentary on Quakes matches. It's a great thing to see the two of them working together on the national stage.