The National Women's Hockey League continues its offseason with numerous player signings, its first international draft and several front office moves. In case you've missed anything over the last few weeks, let's take a look at what's happened in the league.
Starting with my controversial hot take – if this is what having VAR is, I'm not sure I want it. Or maybe better stated, if this is what the rules call for, I'd like a new discussion on the rules. I admittedly haven't gotten to watch a ton of games yet as I was out of town at a conference, but what I have seen has been a lot of awkward stoppages and the spirit of the game ruined. My opinion may change as the tournament progresses, but right now it feels like a lot of pedantic stuff that happens in normal run of play is deciding games and so far it's made things less enjoyable to me.
Italy 2 - 1 Australia
We started off with a bit of a shocker yesterday morning as Italy's Barbara Bonansea scored her second of the game just moments before the final whistle to give the Italians the upset win.
What We Learned:
- Defense wins (or loses) games: I mean, it's not as though folks didn't know that there were some glaring holes on the defensive end of the pitch for Australia, but maybe we all thought the offense would be enough to compensate. Except the vaunted offense was kept in check and Italy was well-prepared to expose every part of the back line weaknesses that plague the Matildas. The defense was exposed early and often, but what will stick with me is how not one of them seemed to check on or know where their mark was on that final corner kick. With every one of them staring up at the cross, it was simply too easy for the Italians to be the first to the ball.
- The goalie has to commit: Lydia Williams was spectacular in net for the Matildas and kept the game closer than it might have been, but her hesitation on that final goal was painful to watch for this former goalie. It was far from the only issue there, since the Aussies struggled on set pieces all game and both the Italians closest to the ball were on the goal-side of their defenders, but especially with a shaky back line, Williams has to be decisive and take control of the box and in the most crucial moment, she wavered.
- The world was watching: The Aussies have downplayed their two recent losses to the US and Netherlands, but what those two high-profile games did was provide everyone else something of a blueprint on how to neutralize Kerr and the Australian attack. It was less about defense for Italy – though that was also very good – but instead was about pace and possession. The Matildas never really looked comfortable and Italy was able to play the game they wanted. They had five shots, with just three on goal, and scored on two of them. That's some efficiency.
- Barbara Bonansea: Can I just name her three times? The Juventus star simply made Australia's back line look silly. She found holes, used her pace and even after scoring once and having another called back, she was poorly marked on the last play of the game, giving her way too much of a look at the net for the header. Bonansea was great, but no one else really stood out. Not to take too much away from Italy, but they played a very straightforward style – it was not particularly special and Australia's failure to be prepared for it is the story of the game.
- Sam Kerr's boxing celebration was a callback to country-mate Tim Cahill, which I liked.
- Not only does Australia have to be concerned with wins and draws, but goal differential as well. With their defense, I'd be more than a little concerned that it could come down to that.
It doesn't get any easier for the Matildas, who face Brazil on Thursday. The Brazilians were without Marta and did just fine against Jamaica. If any team could replicate what Italy did today and improve on it, it's Brazil. It's unlikely the Aussie's defensive woes will be patched by then, but they have to hope they can figure it out on the offensive end to offset that. Italy faces Jamaica on Friday and will have all the confidence and momentum they could ever hope for, plus that extra day of rest.
Brazil 3-0 Jamaica
I would not have predicted that Cristiane, who was starting in place of Marta, would take that opportunity and run with it in such a huge, impactful way. At less than a month more than 34 years old, she became the oldest person, man or woman, to record a hat trick at the World Cup. She surpassed Carli Lloyd on the women's side and Ronaldo on the men's side.
What We Learned:
- Brazil is a threat no matter who's leading the offense. There are a lot of reasons to fear Brazil, but their depth is the thing most likely to carry them to the final. The weapons they have off the bench or to step in for injuries are varied and as a team, they're just relentless. Each goal today was prettier than the last and that started with wave after wave of attacks, perfect crosses and a huge presence up front.
- There's value in each game. Echoing Lindsay from yesterday, even the non-marquee games are worth it. Seeing Marta out and this match up, you might have skipped this game, but you'd have missed a lot of history being made. I love seeing the spark of what might be and Jamaica had quite a few plays today to show me that they're going to be worth paying attention to in the coming years.
- Cristiane: There aren't many more words that can be said about her performance on Sunday. She put on a masterclass and showed why a player of her age and experience in a coach's back pocket is so important. Bench players aren't always just bench players, and to be able to "reload" with someone like her is devastating for opponents. She took full advantage of the opportunity Marta's injury afforded her and made a seamless transition leading the offense. Her free kick goal could not have been prettier.
- Sydney Schneider: Much like Lindsay said yesterday, I don't care that Schneider gave up three goals because frankly no one was saving that free kick and probably the header, as well. I thought she was composed and confident and flat out made the kind of saves a team like Jamaica needs to have a chance in this tournament. She is a 19-year-old player in her World Cup debut, and she delivered.
- Kadija Shaw: There were just some absolute flashes of brilliance from Shaw today that leave me excited to see what else she can do. The through ball from Havana Solaun on her change in the 30th minute was great and Shaw's shot there had so much power and movement. Not only was it a smart play with a quick shot, but it showed what she'll be capable of when she isn't in a position to need to put it on net so quickly.
- These ladies love an over-the-knee sock and for the life of me I can't figure out how that doesn't drive them nuts, especially behind their knees.
- Sydney Schneider's bright fuchsia goalie kit may have been my favorite look so far.
- Formiga is a badass. Appearing in today's game, she became the first player to appear at seven Women's World Cup finals, and the oldest player in tournament history at 41 years and 98 days.
Australia's loss to Italy probably puts Brazil in the driver's seat for the top spot in group C. The two teams meet up on Thursday and Australia pretty much has to get points from that matchup. Jamaica gets Italy on Friday.
England 2-1 Scotland
This is the outcome we expected from this highly-anticipated geographical rivalry matchup, but Scotland definitely gave the Lionesses more of a scare than they should have. The Scots took advantage of mistakes and didn't let the match become more than 22 women on the pitch. England's Nikita Parris and Lucy Bronze together are one of the better duos we've seen in recent years and they're only going to get better.
What We Learned:
- Clear the darn ball: A thing I really love about soccer is that the things U8's worry about are the things the pros have to take care of, as well. Both teams were sloppy with the ball at times and it cost each a goal when they failed to clear the ball or carry it out of their end. This is fundamentals and they were lacking at times.
- The full 90 minutes: England struggled in the second half after looking so sharp for the first 45 minutes. They came out flat and that simply isn't something they'll be able to get away with as this tournament progresses.
- Countries have to support their players full time: I thought Scotland acquitted themselves incredibly well for a squad that most are currently painted as being in the "just happy to be here" camp. Thus far, the most poignant moment of this tournament for me was watching England's Nikita Parris go right at Scotland's Nikola Docherty, who works as a nurse and practices two nights a week with a team in the part-time Scottish Premier League.
- Nikita Parris: No surprise here, the Ballon d'Or finalist continued her stellar year by showing that she and Lucy Bronze make a great combination and Lyon opponents should be concerned that they'll be playing club together next year as well. She was solid, focused and carved up the defense.
- Lee Alexander: A stopped penalty and a number of big saves helped boost the Scotland confidence and make this a competitive game. Another goalie who was cool under the pressure of her debut, she made a huge impact for her team in a big spot.
- Let the woman have the ball from her first goal, Lucy, yikes.
- I am so here for these "underdog" goalies. Bring on these women who are are facing down superstars and giving their side the chance to stay in it. A goalie stealing a win is a bit more rare in soccer, but from what I've seen so far, this tournament is primed for a performance like that.
- In my opinion, England is too good of a team to have to resort to some of the petty time-wasting stuff they did to close out this game. It's definitely a part of the sport and I'm trying not to be too much of a grumpy old lady, but to me that was playing a bit scared like they didn't believe they could finish out the game with a win without it.
First they'll both be hanging back to watch and scout the Argentina and Japan game on Monday. England's got the lead in the group and they face Argentina next. That they'll get to go into the Japan game knowing what's on the line for them should be helpful. Scotland will face Japan on Friday.
(Photo credit: FIFATV/YouTube)
Filed under: 2019 women's world cup; team australia; team brazil; team italy; team jamaica; team england; team scotland; Cristiane; sam kerr; Sydney Schneider; Lucy Bronze; soccer; nikita parris
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