Source: Getty Images via The FA

Onto the last 16

  • +1

The Women’s World Cup First Stage is over and we say goodbye to the Ivory Coast, Ecuador, Nigeria, Spain, Mexico, Thailand and Costa Rica – all of them have added value to the tournament and shown that increasing the number of teams to 24 was the right thing to do.

Many people will be surprised that Cameroon have progressed to the last 16 instead of Nigeria but the draw for Nigeria was very tough, having to face one of the favourites in USA plus Sweden and Australia but it is a shame that we won’t be seeing any more of Asisat Oshoala in this tournament.  I have also read about the lack of investment into the women’s game in Africa and because of that the poor preparation for a major tournament.  Hopefully this will begin to change.

England started their campaign against France and deployed the most negative tactics possible which only resulted in putting themselves under constant pressure.  However, if the aim was to restrict the loss to one goal then it paid off, but how much more satisfying it would have been if they had actually tried to win.  Colombia showed them how by upsetting the books and beating France by 2 goals to nil.

England employed a more attacking tactic when they took on Mexico but they were still held out until Fran Kirby showed some individual skill and determination to make the breakthrough.  With the return of Karen Carney from injury there was some added zip to the team and it was obvious how much the team had missed Carney’s flair.

In the meantime Germany, who had ruthlessly defeated Ivory Coast by 10 goals to nil in the first round of the competition were held to a one all draw by Norway in the second game, and the USA (who have tipped themselves to win the tournament) who had beaten Australia 3-1 in round 1 were held to a 0-0 draw against Sweden.

England were in the position of needing to win their last match against Colombia and played the first half with real intent and were leading at half time by 2-0.  Things didn’t go so smoothly in the second half, however, but despite a loss of rhythm did hang on to win by 2-1 and with France beating Mexico by 5-0 England finished second in  Group F and go into the last sixteen to face the talented Norwegian side.

There have been the inevitable negative comments about this women’s football tournament – but that will always happen.  The one criticism I have is at the lack of consistency; why was Nigeria’s Ugo Njoku retrospectively banned for 3 matches for elbowing Sam Kerr (Australia) – an incident unseen by officials – when a very obvious, deliberate elbow on Laura Bassett of England by France’s Camille Abily went unpunished.  FIFA saw no reason to take any action and the FA did not appeal – why?  To anyone watching the match, it was possible to see the swelling on Bassett’s face grow minute by minute and the challenge was without a doubt dangerous – one can only hope there is no serious injury.

Then there was probably the most obvious hand ball I’ve ever seen, which somehow was not spotted by anyone except the crowd, players and commentators, this occurred in the Colombia v France match – a penalty would have brought France right back into the game.  But the tactic from players and managers seems to be to make as little fuss as possible.

The artificial turf has, as expected, had an impact on the games in slowing the ball down.  It also heats up in the summer temperatures and gives an unpleasant burn on the skin.  Constant watering does help but I still find it difficult to accept that this was the only solution for a tournament in Canada and the refusal from the Canadian FA and FIFA to negotiate with the players extremely disrespectful.

As for the conversation on women’s teams being coached by women or refereed by women; I hope to see the day when no-one comments on the gender of the coach or referee, only their ability and that the best person is hired for the job regardless of gender, race or creed.  What is really required is a bigger pool of women qualified as coaches and referees.

Aside from these little gripes, the tournament has been really enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the intriguing ties in the next couple of weeks and hoping to see more great goals, individual skill and the passion and commitment that you expect from the World Cup.  The best possible result – thousands of little girls inspired to take up the game and emulate their heroes on the field.

Finally a mention for the BBC – I really loving ‘the Catch-Up’ it’s a great piece each day.