On the advice of Alex Morgan’s game winning goal celebration, I’ve grabbed a cup of tea. Now I’m ready to talk about this match.
So. The Americans have sealed their passage to another final, while the English are edged out in the semi-final. It all has a sense of deja vu. A lot went on in the match. An early goal, a come back, a goal celebration that I thought was brilliant and paraphrasing the words of Jill Scott “she scored in the semi-final, she can celebrate however she wants”, a second half contrast with an arm wrestle but a missed penalty, slight offside and red card to finish. Oh what a game.
Here’s three key take homes from the match.
AMERICA HAVE A TACTIC BOOK
For the longest time the Americans have edged their competition for finishing the full ninety minutes with the highest level of athleticism. For the longest time a lot of us have bagged them out for their one dimensional play and inability to find a tactic more than ping the ball into the box for the head of a tall forward. I’d love nothing more than to stand around this water cooler conversation and throw salt at the USA for a lack of bringing the beauty in the game. But.
Times have changed.
At the start of this cycle, after a changeover in personnel from the 2015 side, there was a shift and some creative thinking in how the Americans play. Mostly I noticed this by people yelling about Ellis playing a back three. Whilst there were definitely niggles and it was by far not the smoothest of rides, the gamble of getting this side of unbelievable individual footballers to play a mixture of formations and ideas on the park make them absolutely deadly. This is a side who can shift from five in the back in a heartbeat to flood the final third, overloading both flanks and still look solid if their opponent counters.
Against England? They won the first half with more players in the middle. Utilizing Rose Lavelle in the space the absence of Fran Kirby in the midfield brought, the American midfielder was magic. But it’s the second half they showed their flexibility. Shifting to have Julie Ertz sit back a lot deeper, providing a solid brick wall of five when England moved Parris to the flank and were starting to open up with width. The Americans had the right ideas to dampen the English like a fresh cup of tea spilling and causing heads to drop.
Sure it was some individual bits of brilliance for the goals, some luck and players continually hitting to the strong side of goalkeepers for penalties that allowed the USA to hold on to the lead. But have no doubt, this is a side who can adapt within a match to deal with the threat at hand. That’s a traditional strength of the Europeans. The Americans have upped a level gaining this skill and are forging a way where you’ve got to be the best on the ball, fittest of the park and smartest head on their shoulders to get to their level.
ENGLAND THREW OUT THE BOOK
All tournament the strongest part of the field for England has been the right side. Nakita Parris leading, sticking close to the line and creating space for Bronze to cut in and overlap, while Jill Scott is there to help defend if that duo loses the ball. A winning combination. A LOT of goals have come down that flank. Add in on paper the Americans look at their weakest and most exposed down their left? And putting Parris’ name on the right flank should’ve been a no-look, it’s happening type of call like me bringing tv dinners in for work is. Instead? They forgot to take the tv dinner out of the freezer.
Parris was missing in the middle. Whether the move was for England to play a 442 with Parris supporting Ellen White or Parris was sitting at the top of a three midfield, I’m still unsure. The clear result was on the wall in the first half, with America winning the ball in the midfield too often and England being under intense pressure.
Ok. Poor decisions aside for the starting XI, a simple element of England’s game was missing all day.
This England side pride themselves on possession. A few years ago it might not have been so much of an issue, England could soak up pressure and flung forward only at particular moments. This side? They demand the ball and use it well. They didn’t here. Too often a pass was forced forward when a simple one was begging right next door. The 50% ball was then lost and the defence were on their back foot.
England put up a massive fight. A bit more level headedness and the ability to finish a penalty this match could’ve swung in their favour.
One last thought. Watching the Optus Sports chat on twitter with an ex Matilda, Lioness and American (do you guys have a nickname like the rest? Someone ping me please), and they talked on football confidence. It was a good chat, I recommend watching it (I’ll link it later).
America showed it here. They’ve got this winning confidence oozing. It’s completely unflappable with goal celebrations to match it. They’ve shown time and time again why they’ve got this underlying belief in themselves, that isn’t altered by outside opinions and I’d dare to say results or possibilities on paper.
I wish this confidence was a rash that could spread. It’s something people get scared of when women have it. Men having confidence? Oh yeah “winner”. Women? “Bitch”.
Let’s change that yeah. Of course there’s way to approach matches, with respect for your opposition and the game. Other individuals and sides in this tournament have the same mentality and have shone. But the Americans are a side who clearly have that culture so ingrained and that’s one of the small differences on the park. And in a game judged on mere margins of White’s toe being offside, small margins make all the difference.