18 July 2011

Early Tuesday Football: Easy Comfort

Golden Ball winner Homare Sawa lifts the
Women's World Cup trophy for victorious Japan. 
(Frank Augstein, Associated Press)
Well, I could complain about all those missed first-half opportunities, or the defensive lapses towards the end, or the shocking penalty-kick misses in the shootout.  It certainly was a disappointment to see the U.S. lose the Women's World Cup final Sunday night in Frankurt.  Still, there's plenty of comfort to be had.

The Japanese needed the Cup a lot more than the U.S. did -- a lot more.  That would be the Japanese nation, still in the early stages of its long recovery from the March earthquake that devastated it.  I'd hate to think about the reaction in Japan had the Americans held on, but that didn't happen.  For now, the Rising Sun is a little brighter; and that's a good thing, indeed.

This was an American letdown, not a fiasco.  Over at the New York Daily News, Frank Isola completely missed this question.  Not only wasn't this "simply the worst loss in the history of the national team," it wasn't really even a loss.  The correct answer to that question is (b) that 4-0 thrashing Brazil gave the U.S. four years ago in China.  You know, the one that got Hope Solo thrown off the team, led to the furious dismissal of coach Greg Ryan, and might have destroyed the U.S. program had his successor, Pia Sundhage, not stepped in to rescue it.

Japan spent the first half Sunday dodging more bullets than Ghost in the Shell's Section 9.  In non-anime terms, the Japanese had the luck to survive a deadly barrage that should have finished them -- and then, they had the skill and persistence to take advantage of that break.  The U.S. didn't lose the World Cup; Japan won it.

Disappointed, but not grieving:  U.S. keeper Hope Solo chats
with Japan's Ana Miyama after the match.
(Kevin C. Cox/FIFA via Getty Images)
This was an amazing World Cup tournament.  Japan won with brilliant passing and incredible discipline.  The Americans and the Swedes also looked very good when they didn't have to deal with Japan (or each other).  France turned out to be for real.  Down the ladder a rung or two, Australia, England and Mexico all provided pleasant surprises.  Finally, as Germany and Brazil learned to their sorrow, the era of a free pass to the semifinals has ended.

9-0 and 7-1 blowouts didn't happen this time.  Alas, they may return in four years, as the Canadians  host an expanded field of 24 teams.  On the other hand, some traditional powers that missed out (most notably China and Denmark) should easily find room to return to the field.

It's one of the greatest tournament upsets in sporting history.  No World Cup has produced such as massive upset winner as this edition of Nadeshiko Japan.  Outside soccer, and in the U.S., there are  few examples:  the Super Bowl III champion New York Jets; the North Carolina State squad that stunned the 1983 Men's Final Four1; and, of course, the U.S. hockey team that famously beat the Soviets en route to Olympic gold in 1980.  There's also a case to include the 1966 Texas Western hoops team in this list.  Japan's win this week is notable because, like those other teams, no one took them seriously at the start of the campaign.  Just the road win at Germany in the quarterfinal was a monumental upset, yet the Japanese improved on that.

Hey, at least we're not Brazil.  Last Sunday in the quarterfinals, Abby Wambach put paid to the Samba Queens' embarrassing, cynical, overly theatrical performance, then Hope Solo blocked their World Cup hopes away in the penalty-kick shootout.  This Sunday, the Brazilian men matched that "historical imcompetence2," missing all four penalty kicks in their Copa América quarterfinal exit at the hands of the Tholians Paraguay.  At last report, Seleçao coach Mano Menezes was pleading for his nation not to panic.  Considering how badly the Brazilian men played in this Copa, that might take a little effort.

Anyway, congratulations to Nadeshiko Japan, Champions of the World!

1.  In a sad update that only came to mind now, Lorenzo Charles, whose buzzer-beating dunk propelled the Wolfpack past prohibitive favorite Houston, perished in a car accident just three weeks ago.  Belated condolences to his family, his friends and the North Carolina State community.
2.  Thanks for that hyperbolic description of Coach Menezes, O Globo.

1 comment:

Professor Chaos said...

Screw japan, that's our cup!

Kidding. Japan totally earned it.