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Where EAST meets the Northwest

FRANCE 2019. China’s Li Ying (left photo) celebrates after scoring a goal during the Women’s World Cup Group B soccer match between China and South Africa at Parc des Princes in Paris, France. China won the match, 1-0. In the right photo, Mana Iwabuchi of Japan controls the ball during the Round of 16 knockout match between the Netherlands and Japan at Roazhon Park stadium in Rennes, France. Japan lost the match 1-2 and was eliminated from the tournament on a goal scored late in regulation time.

(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

(AP Photo/David Vincent)

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP. Goalkeeper Shimeng Peng of China, left, and Germany’s Alexandra Popp, center, fight for the ball during a Women’s World Cup Group B soccer match between Germany and China, at Roazhon Park stadium in Rennes, France. Germany defeated China, 1-0, in the match. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #15 (August 5, 2019), pages 11 & 13.

Bright Asian spots in disappointing Women’s World Cup

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

While it’s often overshadowed by the men’s game, the Women’s World Cup features excellent soccer. There’s less hard contact than the men’s game — and less rolling around on the pitch — which leads to a game that’s often more exciting and athletic.

This year’s tournament also underscored the talent chasm separating the top-level teams from everyone else. That distinction doesn’t usually divide East from West, but only three Asian teams advanced to the knockout round, where all of them went home after their first game.

The lowest-ranked Asian team, Thailand, hoped merely to win a game. But those meager hopes were challenged from its very first game, facing the top-ranked U.S. team, who crushed Thailand by a controversial 13-0 score. However, Thailand’s coach still made her team run around the stadium and thank their supporters.

This great team spirit emerged again in the next game, when Thailand celebrated its first World Cup goal this year in a 1-5 loss to Sweden. They also dropped their final match against Chile, 0-2, but Thailand’s positive team spirit should allow them to use this experience to become more competitive.

After advancing to the knockout round for the first time since 2010, South Korea had higher hopes, but they were placed in a tough group that included both Norway and fourth-ranked France, the host team.

In their first game, against France, South Korea started shaky and got worse. They surrendered a quick goal off a defensive mistake, then French defender Wendie Renard showed off her height with two goals off headers, and Amandine Henry finished the 4-0 victory with a beautiful shot to the top of the net.

Hoping to rebound against Nigeria, the Taeguk Warriors instead faced a fast and aggressive counterattacking team — and some bad luck. Doyeon Kim accidentally deflected a long ball into her own goal for Nigeria’s first tally. Then Asisat Oshoala added another, speeding past the defense and guiding the ball into the net at a tough angle to seal the win.

South Korea saved their best for the match against Norway, though it was again a defeat. They gave up two goals on penalty kicks before scoring their only goal on a brilliant backheel from Geummin Lee that caught everyone flat-footed except for Minji Yeo, who slid the ball into the goal.

China also had a tough opening match, against second-ranked Germany, but the Steel Roses refused to be intimidated. China nearly scored twice on breakaway opportunities before young German star Giulia Gwinn scored the match’s only goal. Germany had barely escaped a tough draw — or worse. And China’s coach Jia Xiuquan said afterwards, "Compared to Germany we are not at the same level, but it does not mean we cannot fight."

China fought hard against South Africa, too, peppering their opponent’s goal with 17 shots. China finally connected when Rui Zhang led Ying Li with a perfect pass deep into the penalty box, and Li deflected the ball into the net. Their vaunted defense ensured China’s lone World Cup victory.

Against Spain, China proved its defense again, as Chinese goalkeeper Shimeng Peng earned Player of the Match honors by keeping a clean sheet against a furious Spanish attack. Satisfied with the scoreless draw, both teams advanced to the second round.

In its first knockout game, China had a tough matchup against an Italian squad that had already scored seven goals. Italy stayed red-hot, as Valentina Giacinti slotted home a loose ball in the first half, and Aurora Galli scored her third tournament goal off the bench early in the second half. Unable to mount an offense, China exited the tournament with a 0-2 loss.

The overachieving Steel Roses were happy to reach the knockout round, but Japan had higher aspirations. Nadeshiko Japan had been in the past two finals, winning it all in 2011, so returning to the final seemed reasonable, especially in an apparently soft group.

But those expectations were confounded in their opening game against lowly Argentina, who had never even earned a point in seven World Cups. They played hard against the Nadeshiko, who dominated possession but took ill-timed or off-target shots, and Argentina earned its first ever World Cup point with a scoreless draw.

Japan controlled its second game against Scotland, tickling the twine twice in the first half. Mana Iwabuchi drilled a shot home from the top of the penalty area, and Yuika Sugasawa scored a penalty kick less than 15 minutes later. Lana Clelland added a goal for Scotland with minutes remaining in the match, but Japan held on to win, 2-1.

In its third match, Japan was outfoxed by England, as Ellen White scored twice, both times slipping past the defense on well-timed passes. Japan again wasted many chances, and England took group honors with its 2-0 victory.

A second-place group finish meant Japan faced the Netherlands in the knockout phase. After winning its first three matches, the Dutch kept rolling against the Nadeshiko, scoring early on a corner kick. The ball came low into the penalty area and Lieke Martens deflected it through the legs of one defender and past goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita.

Japan recovered and equalized just before the half. Iwabuchi drew the defense to her at the top of the penalty box then led Yui Hasegawa past the defense, with Hasegawa flicking the ball over the sliding Dutch keeper.

Japan dominated in the second half, but one chance found the crossbar and a brilliant save stopped another. With minutes remaining before extra time, Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema drilled a ball at defender Saki Kumagai in the penalty area. The point-blank shot gave Kumagai no time to react and the ball deflected off her upper arm.

Though the handball wasn’t deliberate, the Netherlands were awarded a penalty kick and Martens converted it for the game-winning goal. The call was technically correct, but it was a huge disappointment for Japan’s fans.

The Netherlands ended up losing 0-2 to the U.S. in the final, but losing to the eventual runner-up is cold comfort for a bad-beat loss, especially since most commentators agreed that Japan had played the better game.

Regardless, Japan’s talent is undeniable. As one analyst pointed out, seven of the Japanese players on the pitch in the Netherlands match were in their very first World Cup. This level of young talent and the team’s storied history should assure Japan many more chances to prove that this loss was just a fluke.

* * *

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #15 (August 5, 2019), page 10.

32-team field approved for 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) council has unanimously agreed to a proposal to expand the number of teams taking part in the next World Cup tournament from 24 to 32, so the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 will involve eight groups of four teams.

Since the bidding process for the 2023 tournament is already underway — with the nine bidders initially expected to submit their bid books by October 4, 2019 — the council did not wait to make its decision at the next meeting, which is scheduled in October in Shanghai, but instead did it remotely.

Having been presented with a background document on the expansion, FIFA’s decision-making body voted in favor of adopting the 32-team format and, as a consequence, updated the hosting requirements as well as the timeline of the bidding process for 2023.

The new timeline includes a new bid-submission deadline of December 2019, the publication of the bid evaluation report now expected in April 2020, and more.

"The astounding success of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France made it very clear that this is the time to keep the momentum going and take concrete steps to foster the growth of women’s football. I am glad to see this proposal — the first of several — becoming a reality," said FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

The tournament expansion will reach beyond the eight additional teams that qualify to participate. According to Infantino, dozens more member associations will organize their women’s programs knowing they have a realistic chance of qualifying for the tournament.

Infantino said the World Cup is the most powerful trigger for the professionalization of the women’s game, but it takes place only once every four years.

"In the meantime, we all have a duty to do the groundwork and strengthen women’s football development infrastructure across all confederations," Infantino said.

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