After one year of postponement, the Tokyo Olympics went on as planned. Back in June,
Argentina 0-0 Japan
It's strange to have a scoreless draw that feels like a major upset, but here we are. The Nadeshiko entered the tournament as juggernauts, having won it all in 2011 and sailing to the finals in 2015. They entered the World Cup as favorites to dominate in the group as well, winning the 2018 Asian Cup and hanging with contenders like Brazil and the United States. Meanwhile, Argentina had been outscored in their six previous World Cup appearances 33-2 and defeated in every single one. Today, though, although out-possessed and outranked, the Albiceleste showed up, ran their legs off, and finished with their first point in World Cup history.
What We Learned:
- Fitness matters: Japan, like many other sides in this World Cup, has had to make adjustments and has had to respond to concerns about depth due to injuries. Argentina showed what can happen when you have a fully healthy squad that can run and play their hardest for a full 90.
- See What Happens When You Invest In Women's Soccer?: From the U.S. Women's National Team's lawsuit to Ada Hegerberg's protest, there's a lot of conversation in this tournament, as there should be, about the ways in which national soccer federations are failing women's soccer. Argentina, just two and a half months ago, professionalized women's soccer. Players receive a stipend of 15,000 pesos ($365 US) per month, which is equivalent to what men make in the Argentine fourth division. Yes, it makes us want to flip a table too.
There is still so much work to be done to advance the women's game and ensure an equitable, accessible and sustainable future for its players and domestic leagues. For now, Argentina has a front-row seat to how things improve when a federation even makes the most half-baked investment in their female athletes. The best squad they've fielded in ages got the first World Cup point ever for their country. And not that one's treatment should depend upon performance, but hopefully today's valiant showing from the Albiceleste will send a message that these athletes deserve so much better.
- Estefanía Banini: Call Estefanía Banini a bartender around the holidays, because she's nutmegging people left and right. The Albiceleste's No. 10 was the best player on the pitch today, pretty much unmatched in skill and work ethic. Her creative, nimble footwork was the sort of dreamy footballing the likes of Eduardo Galeano would wax nostalgic about. With Argentina's advancement prospects still uncertain, let's savor every moment with her while we still can.
- Lorena Benítez: She's here, she's there, she's every-f***in'-where. Banini was the head of Argentina today – creative, nimble, strategic – but Benítez was the heart. She demonstrated versatility and did whatever was needed of her at the time, running at full throttle for the bulk of the match. And she's only 20; so she will only grow into a stronger leadership role on the Albiceleste squad. Watch the throne.
- Saki Kumagai: The Nadeshiko are in a bit of a transitional time, with longtime veterans like Homare Sawa and Yuki Nagasato gone and newcomers like Jun Endo and Saori Takarada getting their first tastes of World Cup action. One of the standouts for Japan today was one of the remaining veterans, skipper Saki Kumagai, who held the defense and helped build the attack with thoughtful, fluid passing.
- Every team that has a turned-up drum section in the stands should get an automatic extra point in the group stage.
- I miss Yuki Nagasato. We are so lucky that we can still watch her in the NWSL. But if you're not following her on Twitter, you're missing some primo content and commentary.
That boost of confidence will surely help Argentina with their next opponent on Friday. They face England, who sit at the top of the group after the first round of play and impressed on Sunday with Nikita Parris and Lucy Bronze leading an assured attack. Japan should have the experience and cohesion to get past a down-but-not-out Scotland on Friday, but the Scots came through with some impressive play and proved they’re more than just "happy to be here." This is going to be a fun group.
Canada 1-0 Cameroon
One of the biggest Narratives of the tournament has been around Canada's skipper and stalwart, Christine Sinclair. Sinc is four goals away from breaking Abby Wambach's record for most career international goals, and WoSo fans are watching every touch with bated breath. She didn't do it today – Kadeisha Buchanan scored Canada's sole goal in the final minutes of the first half. Both sides played defensively, with Cameroon's improved back line keeping Canada's energetic wingers at bay.
What We Learned:
- Stop Sleeping on the "Underdog" Teams: Although today ended in a loss for the Indomitable Lionesses, they still put on a valiant match against one of the tournament's favored sides and held a dangerous attack to just one goal. It still feels like the group standings are not fait accomplí like they might have felt in 2015. It's equally spiriting and frustrating – the caliber of squads across the world continue to improve and the matches feel more competitive and even, and we know what they say about a rising tide and boats. This World Cup is more fun and unpredictable than perhaps we thought it would be. Which is great for everyone! But then you remember that while the USWNT is suing U.S. Soccer for equal pay and Alexi Lalas scratches his head at Ada Hegerberg, Jamaica's technical staff are literally volunteers. We have oh so far to go.
- All Roads Lead to Lyon: Can we just talk for a second about how many impact players in this World Cup so far play for Olympique Lyonnais? Canada's sole goal-scorer today, Kadeisha Buchanan, joins Lyon teammates Saki Kumagai, Lucy Bronze, Sole Jaimes, and Basically The Entire French Squad in making a strong impression in their opening matches. It's almost not fair that one club can be this good.
- Kadeisha Buchanan: Buchanan scored Canada's sole goal on a massive header, but she also had a solid defensive game, delicately and deftly shutting down a speedy, dangerous attack from Aboudi Onguene.
- Ashley Lawrence: Much of Canada's attack had flashes of danger and brilliance today – Nichelle Prince and Deanne Rose certainly had their moments too. But Lawrence kept tripping up a tough defense with fancy footwork and being bold with her attack. Can't wait to see what else she can do.
- Estelle Johnson: Estelle Johnson's World Cup debut was a delight, and she gave us more fan service than Season 7 of Parks and Recreation with her signature slide tackle. And if you want to see more of her, she plays for a little team called Sky Blue FC in the NWSL.
- Nichelle Prince is the one Ohio State athlete who I wouldn't mind obnoxious Ohio State homers going on and on about.
- Is it bad that I want Christine Sinclair to break Abby Wambach's record in this World Cup? It's what she deserves.
- The enthusiasm of the Cameroon supporters in Montpellier warms my cold, gray heart.
Group E is a pretty strong Group of Death contender, with three of the four teams being ranked in the Top 20. Although Canada and the Netherlands are favored to advance, and Canada certainly has gotten a step closer to punching that ticket to the next round today, it's still anyone's group. Canada faces off against New Zealand on Friday, and the Abby Erceg-led back line will once again test their attack, but expect them to still be triumphant. Cameroon face another difficult test in a resurgent Netherlands on Saturday, and it's difficult to say whether or not this gifted, tenacious defense is enough to withstand the likes of Shanice van de Sanden and Vivianne Miedema.
Up Next in Group Play
Tuesday June 11
- New Zealand vs. Netherlands - 9:00 AM Eastern (FS1)
- Chile vs. Sweden - 12:00 PM Eastern (FS1)
- United States vs. Thailand - 3:00 PM Eastern (Fox)
Wednesday June 12
- Nigeria vs. South Korea - 9:00 AM Eastern (FS1)
- Germany vs. Spain - 12:00 PM Eastern (Fox)
- France vs. Norway - 3:00 PM Eastern (Fox)
Filed under: 2019 women's world cup; team canada; team cameroon; team argentina; team japan; soccer; kadeisha buchanan; ashley lawrence; estelle johnson; estefanía banini; lorena benítez; saki kumagai
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