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The ugly beauty of the game – or the beautiful ugliness?
So often in this world championships games have been very predictable and even the fixes of FIFA of the starter and ko-stage places went all exactly the way they wanted. Until England kicked hosts Canada out of the competition.
And England seemed to like to mess up all predictions even more in this game. No parking of the bus from the underdog. They showed straight away that they have a fairly strong side when they play football instead of hide-and-seek. Unlike Australia England started on the front foot right from the off. They urged their game right into the face of a Japans team that seemed totally rattled by their opponent. Japans fluent and brilliant possession game which brought them quite comfortably – though due to a late 1:0 against Australia – into the semi finals seemed to have evaporated and it was England who dictated proceedings especially the longer the game lasted. Leaving only one question open: Would Japan be able to rescue themselves into an overtime and penalty shoot out or would England finally be able to break through after all sorts of promising tries. Especially between the 60th and the 65th minute where in short succession England had three fantastic opportunities and Japan so lucky to have somehow escaped. First it was a powerful shot from the 18yard line that rattled the crossbar above the stretching Kahori. Then it was Whites fine curl also from about 16mtr which was very well saved by the keeper. And another minute later it was Jill Scott with a fine header from a well driven corner kick from Williams who missed the target only inches wide from the left post. From that minute on there could only one legitimate winner be seen.
But of course the ugly beauty of the game was revealed in overtime. Football is only a game. Its not war. Its not a battle or whatever. But sometimes it can be extremely brutal. Extraordinary brutal. Especially when the biggest moment of your whole football career is at stake. You already felt some kind of reduced tension because you accepted the fact and had given credit to Japan for holding firm and forcing the game into extra time preparing yourself mentally for another 30 mins. Suddenly Japan managed to find space for a last counter attack on their right wing with a few bodies moving forward into the english box. A ball was curled in flat behind the defense but everything looked under control again for England to clear it. And then it was the brave Bassett who had been part of an impeccably performing English defense so far who stepped up to clear the ball away from 13m out. But her high looping clearance suddenly fell back towards goal. In just the very exactly cm it needed to touch the post and come down just so close behind the line that keeper Bardsley had no chance to get to it and goal line technology was needed to award a goal for Japan which couldnt have had more drama in it. And brutality.
And so it came that England was out after they played their best match of the tournament by far and – who knows – may be ever but since years for sure. Nevertheless this will hopefully give them a boost on their way to establish themselves as one of the European top nations. However they would do themselves a favor not to go too ballistic now. The gap to Germany and France remains too big for the most of this generation of players, but it can hopefully inspire the next to close it down. Nevertheless it has to be said that apart from a refreshing english attacking of the Japanese players it was really Japan who seemed absolutely below their usual standards in every aspect. Mainly they seemed tired and as a follow up not only lost their usually brilliant organization but acted really like 11 isolated parts. But maybe the hype coming of a semi final is much much better to deal with than if they would have got further. Maybe some people will recognize the advantage of this in the months to come. So well done England.
Japan on the other side was like another side than they had been before. They have to analyze this poor performance and change to the better very quickly because this type of performance will get them nothing else then a very formidable beating in the final. If the big difference to their performance against Switzerland, the Netherlands and Australia was due to the short break, (because they have been very much tiring in Alga-Cup with its short breaks too) there will be no way out with the next game to come already in three days time.
Player Ratings Englands (0-10)
There was not too much to do. But every ball was properly dealt with.
No problem in defense. Very solid
Easier than expected but nevertheless flawless.
If only the penalty would not have happened.
Might have looked easier than expected but won her side. More of support for the offense would be nice
Again was constantly available and caused all sorts of problems.
Did also well in holding midfield.
Not too much created offensively but rock steady.
Not too much created but the 2:0. But always a strong front fighter with high work rate.
Not the factor for the game we used to see. But stopped Maier going forward.
Constantly threatening the German defense. Only the conversion rate to improve.
Player Ratings Japan (0-10)
One exception but mostly a very reliable backbone
Solid team player.
Calm and solid but not as crisp as needed.
As Kumagai simply lacked top notch sharpness.
Not her day. Often second best to Scott.
If Japan was to get a goal – then it had something to do with Kumagai.
Solid – but not as usual.
Again a little bit more of an obstacle to come by for the opponents as the other midfielders
The same goos and reliable team player as always. Not quite on level with Kawasumi on the other side regarding the offense but rock solid.
High workrate as always. But no effect.
The only danger woman for England. Best forward by far.
Cama always second. Seemed not fresh enough.