Women’s World Cup Day in Review: Worries for Canada? Dutch impressive in win on Day 1

2 Comments

To award a penalty or not award a penalty? That is the question asked of soccer matches pretty much since the sport was invented.

In the opener of the 2015 World Cup, host Canada – who had looked flustered and frustrated most of the afternoon – was glad that Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul answered “yes” in stoppage time, saving Canada a slightly embarrassing draw to open matters.

On replay, you can’t blame Monzul for her decision, Zhao Rong had her arm up and contact with substitute Adriana Leon was extended. But China, who conceded just four shots on goal in the contest (including the penalty), likely deserved a point. Deserve, however, in a short tournament, often doesn’t have as much to do with it as we might believe.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

There was, of course, another game in Group A on Saturday night, and this time it was New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson who appeared to be bundled over by the Netherlands’ Lieke Martens in the penalty area late in the second half. However, Mexican referee Quetzalli Alvarado emphatically waved play on. The replay showed she was probably wrong, but that’s little comfort for the Ferns, who fell 1-0 (on Martens’ wonderful strike), and are now 0-9-1 lifetime at the World Cup.

Two calls. Two different outcomes, and two different results. Such is life. What else did we learn from the opening day of Canada 2015?

1) China is improved, but they may not score much
Wang Fei is excellent in goal, and coach Hao Wei has the young Chinese (the oldest player on the roster is 26) extremely organized, but they were a bit offensively challenged even before top scorer Yang Li was lost for this tournament due to injury. Now it’s just going to be a struggle. Still, Wang Lisi came within a few inches on a free kick of giving China the lead in the first half and if they can steal a goal or two against New Zealand (or the Netherlands), 3 points and a solid goal differential should allow them to advance and be an extremely tough second round game for someone like Germany.

2) Canada should be worried, but not too worried
John Herdman won’t be happy his team struggled so much offensively, and they will likely need a little more from Christine Sinclair’s supporting cast of Melissa Tancredi, Joelle Filigno and Sophie Schmidt. But Herdman likely set up this tournament for the Canadians to ease into it and play their best soccer in the knockout stages. So, even though it was ugly, Herdman got what he was after. And he’ll be happy to see people like Kadeisha Buchanan (who should have been Woman of the Match in my humble opinion) play extremely well. Other youngsters like Ashley Lawrence and 17-year-old Jessie Fleming should get better as the tournament progresses. So even if Canada had zero corner kicks and looked nothing like a contender on Saturday, they have plenty of time to get there in the next few weeks. Well, maybe not plenty, but some.

3) The Netherlands has some entertaining players
We were warned about 18-year-old phenom Vivianne Miedema, but the other players in the Dutch front four — Danielle van de Donk, Martens and Manon Melis — showed some real skill and ingenuity, especially when they could get going on the counter. It was Martens who eventually scored (the only goal from the run of play on the day), but like their men’s team, the Netherlands really knocked the ball around well. At least in the first half ….

4) But New Zealand’s physical play dominated the second half
In fact, the game ended 50-50 in possession, with the Ferns having 59 percent possession in the second half. It looked like a hockey game at times, not only because of the physical play (poor Dutch goalkeeper Loes Geurts, who played college soccer at Western Illinois, was on the ground a few times and had her face full of turf pellets for much of the contest), but because the Netherlands could not get out of their own end. They got away with it today (and three points should allow them to advance already), but against better teams, the Netherlands will need to get out of trouble much better.

5) Fatigue on artificial turf
Much has obviously been made of the artificial surfaces and their effect on the game, and it remains to be seen how quickly players can recover in a tournament that will require the winner to play seven matches. However, turf could have a factor on in-game fatigue as well. It wasn’t scorching hot in Edmonton on Saturday, but it was warm, and it is much hotter on turf than it would be on grass at the same temperature. China and the Netherlands each looked very tired at the end of their respective games, and we’ll see if other teams suffer a similar fate as the tournament progresses.

In the Mixed Zone: Liverpool v. Man United

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LIVERPOOL — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and what kind of antics are going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: Rashford injury update

Here’s the scene from deep inside Anfield in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Liverpool and Manchester United as the Reds won 2-0 and now sit 16 points clear, with a game in hand, at the top of the Premier League table.

Safe to say one set of players was more keen to stop and chat with us than the other…


6:35 p.m. (local time): Mixed zone open as Virgil Van Dijk is shown on the TV screens speaking to Jamie Carragher preaching “one game at a time” for Liverpool’s title push. Come on, Virgil. Start picking your suit out for the big celebration in May. More from Virgil later on in the mixed zone as he stops to speak with Pro Soccer Talk…

6:42: A Liverpool legend is hanging around the press room. His assessment of the game and Liverpool’s dominance over Man United? “The perch is looking very strong again…” Liverpool’s 19th title, one short of United’s record 20, is in reach.

6:45: The pitch-side monitor for VAR is rolled out by one man, who is crouching over. Not used today, and only used once across the 229 Premier League games so far. What a lonely, lonely job setting up that equipment most be…

6:47: Okay, here come the lads. First up, a coupe of Brazilian midfielders are talking. Fred and Fabinho hug each other then speak to Brazilian TV. Fred has his shirt in a bag, Fabinho has his suitcase on wheels with a No.3 luggage label on it. Fred’s sneakers have some fancy metals studs on the back of it. Fred was Man United’s best player.

6:55: “USA, USA!” Liverpool’s American owner John W. Henry and his wife Linda Pizzuti wander past us and then disappear through a side door. More from them to come.

 

7:02: Man United’s players keep trudging through. Local lads Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard and Brandon Williams are all downbeat as they trudge through. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is not far behind with his headphones on and hood up.

7:05: Hello. The referees now roll through. Craig Pawson looks like a dear in the headlights, which seems to be his default look. Fourth official Jon Moss looks far from delighted.

7:06: Owner John W. Henry is back and he and his wife greet the assembled media. One journalists asks “How many games do you reckon, John?” in reference to how many games until Liverpool win the title. His response while wearing a wry smile: “There are 16 games left, right?” The billionaire from Illinois has played this game before…

7:09: Man United’s players are now coming through at a rapid rate as captain Harry Maguire gves it a simple “not today, mate” when asked for an interview.

7:15: Andy Robertson stops to speaks to us and during his interview Ole Gunnar Solskjaer walks out of the main press conference and pats him back. They then shake hands. Lot of mutual respect there. As for Robertson on the game: “We had so many chances we could have put this game out of sight. A really good performance from us but luckily Mo just topped it off at the end and we could relax for 20 seconds. Today, looking back at the game there is room for big improvement. Some of the stuff we did was excellent. I thought our midfield three were different class today and ran the game and that was so important. We were a wee bit sloppy in possession, particularly me in the first half, a few of the balls went out. But we got the goal and I think the goal that got disallowed was a bit soft but that’s football. We started the second half really well, we had them pinned back and it looked like a matter of time until we got the goal. But when you don’t get the goal Man United start to get a bit of confidence from that and we should have killed them off in that moment, but we did in the end.”

7:17: Robertson asked about Liverpool edging closer to winning a first title in 30 years: “We are not getting carried away. Until the champions sign is above our head we don’t believe anything because, yeah, it is a comfortably lead, 16 points, but we know how tough this league is. We beat Man United and then we go away to Wolves who are flying and it is an incredibly tough game. We know in a couple of weeks the table can change. It is up to us to stay 100 percent focus and not allow that to happen.”

7:20: Brazilian TV sum up what Fred said to them earlier: “We should have taken our chances” was his assessment of Man United, who somehow hung in there until the 90th minute. To be fair, United did have one or two glorious chances.

7:23: Virgil van Dijk stops for a chat as we ask him about the fans finally chanting “We’re going to win the league!” and if he agrees with that sentiment. Safe to say VVD isn’t getting carried away.

Focusing on Liverpool’s display against Man United, was this about staying focused as they dominated but didn’t score a second until stoppage time?

“Obviously we want to score more goals. We had quite some opportunities to make it easier but in the end you need to find a way to win a game. We defended a little bit deeper at times because they kept pressing, they kept players up and you need to find a way and we did but we could have made it easier.”

As for his goal, the Dutchman towered above Man United’s Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams to head home the opener to set the tone for a dominant win. Did Liverpool target United on set pieces?

“Obviously every game we try to look at the set-pieces to score. We have players that can be very dangerous including myself but it is not always easy and today I think it was a perfect set-piece. We wanted to target the near post and happy to be very important.”

7:28: James Milner and Adam Lallana then walk through in different directions with their kids. Lallana’s kid in full kit. Good effort. Maybe Lallana Jr. was almost on the bench for the FA Cup win against Everton a few weeks ago…

7:30: Okay, all of the pllayers have gone home. Cameras are turned off. The Mixed Zone is closed.

WATCH: Henderson’s motivated comments after Liverpool win

Leave a comment

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson took the microphone after the Reds’ 2-0 beatdown of rivals Manchester United and showed why his manager loves him.

The talented midfielder said there’s no reason for Liverpool to act like its win the Premier League title, or even talk about it.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | 3 Things | Player ratings ]

Henderson, 29, had a monster day in the midfield and every reason to soak in an electric Anfield after Liverpool moved 16 points clear of Man City with a match-in-hand.

He won nine of 11 duels and five tackles, denied a goal by a righteous David De Gea save in the win.

“We’re not really thinking about the end. Why? Why should we change now? Why think about the end of the season? There’s still a lot of games. We’ve took it by each game for a long time now and it’s put us in good stead. For us as players it’s the next game, the next change.

“At Liverpool Football Club there’s always expectation ever since I came, there’s always an expectation to win and be successful and that will never change,” Henderson said. “It is special, we are enjoying our football but you’ve gotta stay hungry, keep learning, keep wanting more. To be fair, this group of players wants to do that. The manager’s on us all the time to improve all the time and we know that we can. It’s about every single day keep going and going until the end of the season.”

The full video is above, and shows why a team is sometimes better when there’s a leader on the pitch. Liverpool’s best midfield possibly excludes Henderson — an incredible luxury — but this guy has that something that cannot be measured by stats (This is hard for a numbers nerd like me to toss out there, but it’s difficult to challenge).

Solskjaer: ‘Very many positives’ from Manchester United loss at Liverpool

Leave a comment

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying his best to downplay the injury to Marcus Rashford.

Manchester United’s manager will be without his top scorer for 2-3 months after back surgery, and is already without playmaker Paul Pogba.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | 3 Things | Player ratings ]

All this after a sloppy 2-0 loss to rivals Liverpool and with news that a once-impending Bruno Fernandes transfer may not happen.

In fact, Sunday’s performance led many to believe United would have to pony up the extra money for Sporting Lisbon’s prolific attacking midfielder. Solskjaer isn’t read to say that.

From the BBC:

“We’ve had many injuries for big players this season. It’s just an unfortunate situation we’re in. We might look at some short-term deals as well that could take us through to the summer. We don’t desperately need a striker. If the right one is there and it fits for us (but) we’ve got players who are champing at the bit.”

As for the game, most of us saw United worked over until deep into the second half.

Solskjaer is not in that majority.

“The players gave us everything,” Solskjaer said. “Today we hung on a bit at the start of second half, but the last 25-30 mins we pressed them and pushed them back. I’m disappointed with conceding from a corner and with the last kick, but very many positives.”

Every time there’s a run of fixtures or tactics that give reason to believe Solskjaer might be growing toward something, he responds like this to a clear and obvious failure. If United can’t act in this transfer window, it can kiss the Top Four goodbye.

Klopp promises to admit when he feels Liverpool will win the league

Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp knows his men were dominant.

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 Things | Player ratings ]

Liverpool out-worked and out-classed its way to a 2-0 win over rivals Manchester United on Sunday at Anfield.

It could’ve truly been a 5-0 or 6-1 game, but poor finishing kept it in the balance. That hardly changes the controlling show put on by Klopp’s Reds.

“On a normal day we would have scored three times in the first half and in the second half until 65 minutes we should have been more clear,” Klopp said, via the BBC.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The performance had Anfield fully electrified, supporters ready to vocalize their expectations.

As Liverpool fans sang “We’re gonna win the league,” Klopp was careful to explain his position,.

“They can sing that, they have sung that a couple of times in the past I think. l have no problem with that. Everyone should celebrate the situation, apart from us. Nothing has changed, we have the same situation plus three points. I will tell you immediately the moment if it feels different, at the moment it doesn’t.”

That’s his job, and his guard shouldn’t go down yet. But the fact of the matter is that it would take top-to-bottom calamity for the Reds to blow this.

Here’s a situation when it may make sense to admit that a title is going to happen: When the Reds face a key Champions League match and choose to prioritize a European lineup. Even, then it won’t happen out of respect for the players he does put in the XI.

In other words: He’ll tell us just before the guard of honor.