From record-breaking matches to empty seats and ferocious debates, a lot has been learned from the group stages of the Women’s World Cup.
US still the ones to beat
Jill Ellis, who is aiming to become the first coach to win the Women’s World Cup twice, has chosen a blend of the old and the new and over the last three years has tinkered with, rather than overhauled, the team’s style of play. So far, it has worked.
For athleticism, for speed, for attacking prowess, the US is without equal. Indeed, no team has ever scored more in the group stages of this competition than the 18 goals netted by the title holders.
Who has qualified
There are no surprises in the knockout stages. The top 10 ranked teams in the world are through — US, Germany, England, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and Brazil.
Spain, ranked 13th in the world, has made it to the last 16 for the first time and must now play the US on Monday, while China has maintained its record of having never failed to progress beyond the group stages.
The Italians could be the surprise outfit of the tournament and beating former finalists China does not seem out of the question. The last-16 fixtures are as follow:
- June 22: Germany vs. Nigeria; Norway vs. Australia
- June 23: England vs. Cameroon; France vs. Brazil
- June 24: Spain vs. US; Sweden vs. Canada
- June 25: Italy vs. China; Netherlands vs. Japan
The world’s best top the charts
Aged 34 years and 25 days, Cristiane beat the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo, who was 33 years and 130 days old when he scored a hat-trick in Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain at Russia 2018.
Bye Bye Jamaica, South Africa, Chile and Scotland
Gulf exists between the elite and the rest
The Thai team is supported by a wealthy patron, the general manager Nualphan Lamsam, who is the chief executive of one of the country’s largest insurance companies. Her tears as Thailand scored its first World Cup goal in a 5-1 defeat by Sweden showed how significant a moment that goal was for her, the team and women’s football in Thailand.
Would Thailand or Jamaica have been able to compete in France without outside investment? The answer to that would be an emphatic no. That national teams rely on wealthy benefactors rather than support from their federations should compel FIFA, the sport’s governing body, to do more.
US striker Morgan said after the victory over Thailand that she hoped that the 13-0 scoreline “encourages FIFA to put a bit of pressure on those respective federations to put more efforts into their women’s sides.” More investment is certainly needed. Urgently.
Goalkeepers & VAR — The big debate
During the opening weeks of the tournament, a number of interesting debates have been had.
Three penalty kicks have been retaken at this summer’s tournament so far after VAR ruled that goalkeepers did not have at least one part of their foot on the goal line.
While FIFA has yet to comment publicly on the penalty controversies, it is clear that officials are simply following the laws imposed by the sport’s rule-making body, the International Football Association Board.
“We need to talk about this rule and the way it’s impacting matches,” Hope Solo tweeted after Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander was penalized by the video assistant referee after her dramatic penalty save during her team’s game with Argentina Wednesday.
A sell out is not necessarily a sell out
FIFA, the sport’s governing body, has declared that ticket sales have exceeded the 1 million mark (1.3m were sold in Canada four years ago), but empty seats have been a feature of the early stages of the tournament, even in matches billed as sold-out by FIFA.
“Generally speaking when it comes to FIFA competitions, there is always potential for a certain discrepancy between the expected attendance and the actual match attendance,” said a FIFA spokesperson. “Such discrepancy is mainly due to ‘no shows,’ which can be linked to different factors such as negative weather conditions, travel constraints or the personal decisions of fans.”
With tickets available from nine euros for some matches, has the cost of not attending matches been made inconsequential? Poor promotion of the game in Paris has also been criticized, with advertising of the French Open — which was being held in the city up until June 9 — more prominent than a tournament being billed as a game-changer for women’s sport.
Record TV audiences
If ticket sales have not been an outright success, at least the group stages have enjoyed blockbuster global television figures.
FIFA hopes a billion tune in to watch on television but, then again, it did hope that 1.3 million tickets would be sold.