It took just about a week to reach the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup, a page-turning novella compared to the epic and overwrought men’s equivalent. And the first round, which saw the U.S., China, Norway, Germany, and Brazil all advance, only confirmed the qualities of these top teams while exposing the limitations of those at the bottom of the fútbol food chain.
1999 Women’s World Cup Organizing Committee head honcho Marla Messing, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and the highlight orchestrators at ESPN— all desperate to avoid the dreaded 0-0 draw at all costs— must have been relishing the seven goals the U.S. put past Nigeria on Thursday, or the other seven Brazil unloaded against hapless Mexico on opening day. But what does it say about the balance of a world cup tournament when four of the quarterfinalists (Brazil, U.S., China, Norway) recorded wins by scoring seven goals and two others (Germany, Russia) put up scores of 6-0 and 5-0?
On the receiving end of this barrage, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Ghana all finished the tournament having conceded 10 goals or more. For its part, Mexico managed to give up 15, which takes some doing in only three games, while the loopy Nigerians made it to the next round with a goal differential of -3.
Goals, as we have been told, are what make soccer exciting. So the more the better, right? Wrong. As Germany and Brazil demonstrated on Sunday, a close, tightly fought match— in this case, a 3-3 draw— offers far more excitement than witnessing Norway demolish Canada. So far, watching the U.S. and China play the game has been a joy because both sides have the technique and skill to make soccer come alive, but as a whole, the Women’s World Cup needs more tension, not more goals, to succeed as a spectator event.
Luckily, we still have the Nigerians. Even when they don’t score, you can’t accuse them of being dull. Last Thursday, apparently unconvinced it could win by conventional methods, the Nigerian team decided to beat the crap out of the U.S., and subjected star striker Mia Hamm to a pummeling not seen in international soccer since Italy’s Claudio Gentile schooled a young Diego Maradona in the subtle arts of the game back in the 1982 World Cup Finals.
That Nigeria has recovered from the U.S. debacle and made the quarterfinal should make their opponent, Brazil, decidedly uneasy. Brazil has been tipped as the dark horse in this World Cup but could well be thrown off theirgame by Nigeria, especially if the Super Falcons put as much effort into kicking the ball as they do opposing players. Brazil has the talent to make the semis, but they’ll be hoping striker Sissi doesn’t live up to her name.
Perhaps, though, the greatest quarterfinal upset could come on Wednesday night when China plays Russia. China, motivated by attacker Sun Wen, is expected to go far, but Russia, having notched two wins in the first round, including an impressive 5-0 rout of Japan, has the passing ability and power to worry China. A win would take Russia to a probable semifinal clash with Norway. That might be one to make even the Nigerians squeamish.