In 1982, after holding steady with its 16-team format for nearly three decades, the men’s World Cup finally expanded to 24 teams. And on the third day of that competition, Hungary beat El Salvador 10-1, a result that’s still tied for the most-lopsided scoreline in competition history. In hindsight, it looks like the perfect example of a competition expanding too soon.
El Salvador had been to a World Cup before, though – in 1970, when it allowed “only” nine goals in three games. The team left that competition with zero points, a performance it’d replicate at Spain 1982, but those poor results weren’t because of some neophyte’s immaturity. Travelling with only 20 men (two less than the roster limit) and debilitated by financial hardships, El Salvador wasn’t underdone a larger field. It was underdone by the realities of its soccer world.
Blowouts, unfortunately, are endemic to soccer. They’re endemic to sports. Be it Spain blowing through Italy in a European championship final or the San Antonio Spurs cruising past the Miami Heat in the final three games of last year’s NBA finals. Even in the most important games, sports can happen. One side could be left with an embarrassing loss.
It happened in 1974, when Yugoslavia beat Zaire 9-0 in a 16-team tournament. It happened last summer, when Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in a 32-team draw. Blowouts, it appears, happen. No matter the level. No matter the sport. Even when you can’t see them coming.
So why the consternation over yesterday’s 10-0 result, with Women’s World Cup co-favorites Germany routing first-timers Cote d’Ivoire? Because we could see that one coming, but we did little to stop it. We could have kept the tournament at 16 teams, the reasoning goes, leaving the debuting Ivorians at home, where they wouldn’t get hurt. Cote d’Ivoire may really want to play in a World Cup, but as people from the “more developed” soccer world, we have an obligation to protect them … the reasoning seems to go.
Unfortunately, Cameroon would have still qualified for a smaller tournament, and it’s unclear how much better Africa’s second qualifier is than its third. Germany could have easily been drawn with it and just as easily put up a lopsided number. Likewise, Mexico, Colombia and China are all capable of landing on the wrong end of a rout. None of them are the worst qualifiers in their regions, and under the old format, they would have still made the World Cup. Scores like 4-0, 5-0 … 7-0 – they’re all possible results when Germany faces one of those sides. Is there an acceptable level of blowout?
History tells us trying to avoid blowouts is useless. Big games, meaningless games; professionals, amateurs – it’s beyond our control. But history also tells us the more chances teams like Cote d’Ivoire, Thailand and Ecuador get, the better they’ll become. They’ll see the level they need to reach, adjust to that standard, and close the gap. The chasm may never fully be crossed, but as we’ve seen on the men’s side, soccer’s speed bumps don’t lie down for long.
There are a lot of other reasons to poo-poo the small tournament love, many of which involve embracing diversity and shunning soccer imperialism, but a fear of blowouts should never be the focal point of the conversation. Blowouts have been a part of soccer longer than shin pads or synthetic balls, and within the context of World Cups, they serve as a valuable barometer. And if the teams suffering on the field are willing to endure them …
… it’s hard to say they do any real harm.
Group B always looked like the tournament’s most polarized group. That’s how Sunday’s games played out: 14 goals for the favorites; none for the underdogs; few lessons learned. We knew Germany and Norway were good. We suspected Cote d’Ivoire and Thailand were bad. Come Sunday night, we had a little more proof.
Stare at the tea leaves long enough (and ignore the fact that 90 minutes is rarely enough to go on) and there are some hints about the two new teams. In the opening moments of its 4-0 loss to Norway, Thailand looked mildly impressive, with the speed of right wing Rattikan Thongsombut burning Norweigan left back Ingrid Moe Wold, nearly setting up a goal for Kanajan Sungngoen.
It was the team’s best chance of the match, one that went array when Sungngoen mistimed her stab at the ball, but it was more than most expected.
The rest of the game was all Norway, of course, though goals from Trine Bjerke Rønning (a stoppable direct kick), Isaball Herlovsen (two) and 19-year-old hipster magnet Ada Hegerberg told us little about Even Pellerud’s site. Not that Thailand didn’t have some very generous moments:
For the most part, though, Thailand was the clichéd, well organized side. It was just ultimately bowled over, making it impossible to be too impressed by its opposition.
Cote d’Ivoire, however, was far from organized.
From the opening moments of the game, the back line was all over the place, with Germany finding consistent success getting behind left back Nina Kpaho, who continuously misread plays and left valuable space behind her. Celia Sasic had a hat trick by the 31st minute, and Anja Mittag would complete hers by the 64th, leaving plenty of time for the world to debate the difference between 16 and 24.
The group’s next games are the ones which will matter most. On Thursday, Germany and Norway meet in Ottawa in a battle for first, one neither team would be hurt by losing. The winner of Group B will go into the top half of the knockout round bracket, where the winners of groups D (United States’ group) and F (France) could also be slotted. Finish second in this group, however, and you go to the other half of the bracket, where your path to the final takes and easier route.
Quick but important
Dzsenifer Marozsán left out
It put up 10 goals, but Germany could have been even better. Reportedly not at full strength, 23-year-old attacking midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán was held out of the co-favorites’ XI, giving Melanie Leupolz a spot in the lineup. The omission was thought to be precautionary, but there’s no word as to whether Marozsán will play versus Norway.
Along with the Netherlands’ Vivianne Miedema, Hegerberg is drawing a lot of early attention, probably because both
a.) are young,
b.) play for big clubs (Bayern Munich and Lyon),
c.) score a lot of goals, making them easy to pick out on a Wikipedia page, and
d.) can win friends and influence people when you mention them in your Twitter timeline party.
Yesterday, however, Hegerberg failed to live up to that hype. Though she scored her first World Cup goal late against Thailand, she had numerous chances to open her account earlier, providing some uncharacteristic misses along the way.
Perhaps it was World Cup nerves, but the 19-year-old may have left her small battalion of new fans disillusioned. Had Wikipedia and YouTube done them wrong?
Goofy start for the departing Sylvia Neid
Germany’s head coach got exactly the start she wanted to her last major tournament, with 10 goals allowing her and her staff to practice a high-five formation sure to become a model of celebratory restraint:
Not that Neid was above a little tomfoolery:
Speaking of shenanigans …
No word on whether Norway will be docked points for this:
All celebrations are not good celebrations. Have aspirations, Norway. Take a road less travelled.
To this point, turf has been a non-issue, which is not to say it should be. As people fixated on the surface temperature of the field during yesterday’s game (not ideal, but not a problem), former Soccer Gods guest Jennifer Doyle was posting a number of other worrisome factoids about the surfaces at Canada 2015.
According to Business Insider, there are significant concerns about the quality of the field in Vancouver, which will host the final. Laid one week before the tournament started, the new BC Place field has only seen one game’s worth of action, a Major League Soccer match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake. According to the Polytan, the company that makes the product, the field needs 6-10 weeks to settle. Group C begins play on the surface today.
Doyle also pointed her followers to this video, a mind-numbingly quaint three minutes that tried to explain FIFA’s approach to turf.
Given the timeline of the new field in Vancouver, it’s hard to believe BC Place’s rug has met the standards this video implies, especially if it has yet to settle.
Obligatory Hope Solo controversy
ESPN’s Outside the Lines came out with another look at Hope Solo’s controversies, one that has little information women’s soccer fans haven’t heard before. Among the new information, though, is an interview with Teresa Obert, the half-sister who was party to the altercation that led to Solo’s eventually dismissed domestic violence charges.
Outline the Lines also reported finding no evidence that U.S. Soccer pursued an investigation:
Outside the Lines found no evidence that anyone with U.S. Soccer contacted prosecutors or police involved with the case, either. Public records requests made to the Kirkland Police Department do not appear to reflect any attempt by officials with U.S. Soccer to obtain the police reports from the case. [Kirkland, Wash., public information officer Mike] Murray told Outside the Lines he was not aware of anyone from U.S. Soccer contacting the Kirkland police for information about the case.
In some ways, this is the typical coverage you’d see of any star before a big tournament. What’s interesting about them, how can a site package it for its audience, and how do you do that as responsibly as possible? For the most part, ESPN did a good job.
There was, however, a tendency to exaggerate the revelatory nature of the piece. Most of the information presented was already public, already presented through different means, but merely retold with Outside the Lines’ unique voice.
When you see this on SportsCenter, however, the exaggeration really takes hold:
There’s nothing wrong with retelling a story, particularly when an audience balloons for an event like a World Cup. But how you package that reporting is important. It’s information in itself, and it can be persuasive. In some places, Mark Fainaru-Wada’s report was portrayed as something that furthered Solo’s story. It merely rustled it up.
No more one day, one group scheduling. Starting Monday, we’re getting four games per day, with the defending world and Olympic champions starting their quests to return to the final.
Japan does so against Switzerland, the toughest team in its group but also a good game one opponent. The Swiss are debutants but also have talented players like Lara Dickenmann and Ramona Bachmann. It’s a dangerous team, but if Japan plays well, it won’t be a major problem.
The United States is in a similar situation. Australia may be ranked 10th in the world, but many of Asia’s teams have exaggerated world rankings, and although talents like Sam Kerr, Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord and Lisa de Vanna are recognizable to hardcore fans in the States, the U.S. has won its last three games against the Matildas. Like Japan, the U.S. gets a challenging but manageable start to the competition.
- Sweden v. Nigeria, 4 p.m. Eastern, Winnipeg, FOX
- Cameroon vs. Ecuador, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Vancouver, FOX Sports 2
- United States vs. Austalia, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, Winnipeg, FOX Sports 1
- Japan vs. Switzerland, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Vancouver, FOX Sports 1