After sleepwalking through a humdrum opening round, the Women's World Cup awoke last week with the jolt of urgency that comes from single elimination. Through the four quarterfinals, the only dreary match came courtesy of the Jockbeat-tipped Russians (Ed: too much pre-reporting vodka?), who adopted a hangover-like go-slow strategy and got spanked 2-0 by the Chinese.
Norway, playing an identical game to their male national counterparts, wore down, then demolished, a young and skillful Swedish squad who played the same creative passing game as their men's team. Then we had Germany, all organization and direct intervention (remind you of any particular men's team?) falling heroically to the U.S., and, well, we won't even start on the jogo bonito of Brazil and the "who cares about defense" Nigerians.
We'll leave it to the social anthropologists to expound on why so many nations develop culturally exclusive styles of play. For soccer scientists, and for those looking to the future of women's soccer, it is the two female exceptions to the national stereotype that prove the most interesting.
They are China and the U.S., perhaps the strongest teams in the competition and, without a doubt, the most sophisticated. Unlike their counterparts, both China and the U.S. have had no national soccer "identity" to model themselves on: China, because the game is relatively new there; the U.S., because well, just look at the MLS.
With the freedom to invent their own characters, both teams play a tight, rapier-quick, attacking game, keeping the ball to the front for the most part, while still being able to defend in numbers (though the U.S. has consistently committed defensive lapses in the early moments of every match). In short, each team plays as a compact, mobile unit, one that's difficult to break down and very difficult to defend against. Put simply, both China and the U.S. play a perfect team game. When they're on, it's great to watch.
Now that the NBA Finals are ancient, ancient history, it's time to mothball your knowledge of free-throw statistics and playoff comeback scenarios. Baseball is front and center and an awareness of Jose Canseco's career high for home runs and whether Tom Seaver had more strikeouts than Roger Clemens is what earns clout in the city's sports bars. So, for when you've decided to go out and invest considerable cash and shelf space in a baseball stat book, here is Jockbeat's consumer guide to the genre:
Reilly's Leering Eyes
Oh to be an irony editor at Sports Illustrated. Last week's issue includes a feature that highlights U.S. World Cup forwards Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan, and their scorn for the sexist treatment they received while playing for a club team in Japan. "Basically, they wanted us to be their cutesy showgirls," says Milbrett. "We were appalled by that." Understandably so, but then Milbrett had best avoid the magazine's back page, where the reliably loathsome Rick Reilly serenades the "Goal-Goal Girls" of the U.S.: "They've got ponytails! They've got kids! They've got (gulp) curves!" Put your tongue back in your mouth, Rick, and stick to focusing on the game. Even when women are on the playing field.
contributors: Matthew Yeomans, Allen St. John, Joanna Cagan
sports intern: Joshua D. Gaynor
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman
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