Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 11

1 Comment

Comparing men’s and women’s soccer is obviously an apples and oranges thing, but one of the biggest reasons I’m writing this is a guy named Roger Milla.

If you’re too young to remember a time when soccer games were nearly impossible to find on television, like ever, then congratulations. Because in 1990, at least in the United States, there was nothing. MLS was still six years away and piping in matches from Europe was the realm of satellite dishes that took up a good part of the roof at sports bars and still brought in fuzzy pictures when they worked.

The exception, kind of, was the World Cup, at least in 1990 when cable television picked up most of the matches because the United States had qualified for the first time in four decades. In the opening match, African underdog Cameroon upset Argentina 1-0 (they hacked Diego Maradona throughout and finished on nine men, but whatever), and the next day in school, my soccer friends couldn’t stop talking about Cameroon.

They ended up winning their group and beat Colombia by scoring twice in extra time. Both goals were scored by 38-year-old Roger Milla (the second a hilarious goalkeeping error by another legend, Rene Higuita). Obviously his goal-scoring made him special, but what really created his iconic status was his celebrations, dancing with the corner flag. He played with such joy, it was impossible not to root for him, especially as the massive underdog he was.

[MORE: Wambach goal lifts United States to win match, Group D]

I still wonder what might have happened had Cameroon been called for not one, but two penalties (including one in extra time) in the quarterfinal, leading to a 4-3 loss to Gary Lineker and England. Other than Senegal in 2002, African men’s soccer has not been to such heights in the quarter-century since. To this day, I still own a Cameroon jersey or two and try to root for the African teams at the World Cup.

On Tuesday, I saw a little bit of Roger Milla in Gabrielle Onguene, even if she was just a 1-year-old in 1990. Gaelle Enganamouit wasn’t even born yet and veteran Madeleine Ngono-Mani (Cameroon’s all-time leading scorer), who scored the game-winner against Switzerland, was just six.

But that joy of playing, ability to make opponents look silly, and not really giving much of a hoot about history looked awfully familiar. Like the 1990 men’s team, Cameroon’s place in the second round is far from a fluke. They crushed Ecuador, out-shot world champion Japan 20-4 before falling 2-1, and were completely dominant Tuesday in the second half against a Switzerland team that almost everyone had tipped for the quarterfinals and a date with the United States.

That place may now belong to Cameroon. Of course, getting by a disciplined China defense Saturday won’t be easy and the Indomitable Lionesses would be a massive underdog against the United States, if it came to it in the quarterfinal.

Regardless of how they do the rest of the way, Cameroon has not only set the stage for a bright future, but they have given us entertainment that we just don’t see often anymore, in the men’s or women’s game at this level.

Somewhere Roger Milla must have been watching. And showing off his iconic grin.

– Ray Curren

What else did we learn from Groups C and D Tuesday?

Is Sweden the sleeping giant? Sweden has not had a strong World Cup, and it could end after Wednesday’s matches.  If it doesn’t, they will play Germany in the Round of 16 in a match that will see the loser almost certainly miss the Olympics.  The question is, if Sweden get a second life, will they be more dangerous than ever? They are still undefeated, easily could have beaten the United States, and also could have let go when Australia took an early lead on Tuesday.  But they didn’t.  If they survive, look for them to give Germany everything they can handle.

– Dan Lauletta

Here there Ecuador:  Japan never really pushed the gas pedal at all, but still, Ecuador has to be proud of its performance, particularly goalkeeper Shirley Berruz, who had a few good stops to keep the score 1-0. Ecuador avoided the worst goal differential in World Cup history, which looked like a shoe-in before kickoff Tuesday. Ecuador surely has seen what Colombia has done and knows they aren’t necessarily that far behind them in South America, so with four years more experience and hopefully a little help from their federation, they’ll look to return in France.

– Curren

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

Nigeria turning a cornerOn paper this World Cup will look much like Nigeria’s others.  Two losses and a draw leaves the Super Falcons 3-14-2 in World Cup play with a single trip out of the group stage (1999, when they earned two of their three wins).  Their Olympic record is 1-8-0.  But a deeper look says this go-round was different.  Talented young players like Asisat Oshoala and Francisca Ordega made Nigeria dangerous at every turn, and to some extent they eschewed the physical tactics and tried to actually outplay their opponents.  Tuesday began on the back foot, but just when it looked like they would implode, the Nigerians got hold of the match and made the United States work until the final whistle, even carrying possession at times after they were reduced to 10.  The two takeaways for me from their World Cup are that they are not far from being actual contenders, and that with some more like last December at the draw they could have easily been quarter-finalists.

– Lauletta

Is Japan in trouble? The defending champs will enter the knockout stage with a perfect 9 points and, on paper at least, in much better shape than it was at this time four years ago in Germany. But they’ve only scored four goals – one against hapless Ecuador – and were outplayed for long stretches in both the Switzerland and Cameroon matches. The Japanese media has made an issue out of the fact that Japan is the second-oldest team in Canada (wonder who the oldest is?). With Kozue Ando out for the tournament, will they be able to win every game 1-0? They might get the Netherlands in the second round, and if they get past that, Brazil. Can they survive both of those? Of course, we didn’t think so four years ago, either, did we?

– Curren

Is it Australia time? Australia should be plenty pleased at finishing second in what many thought was the most difficult group at the World Cup.  They should be further pleased by outplaying the United States for an hour, dominating Nigeria, and playing a controlled match against a Sweden team that needed it more.  Next is a dicey match against Brazil, who will be waiting for them in Moncton, but Alen Stajcic’s side has to feel at this point that it can play with anyone in the world.

– Lauletta

Switzerland can sleep soundly:  Historically, three points and a plus-7 goal differential should be plenty for Switzerland to advance and while they walked off the pitch Tuesday in limbo, by the time Sweden were held, the Swiss were locked in. But at halftime Tuesday, they were looking at playing China with a real good shot at making the quarterfinals and a possible Olympic berth next summer. Now it looks like possibly host Canada.  They have shown the ability to play with the best in the world for short periods, but their confidence will not be high, and the massive crowd against them may be too much to overcome.

– Curren

World record-holding manager Gutendorf dies at 93

Photo by Rzepka/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The world record holder for most teams managed has died at the age of 93.

Rudi Gutendorf, who managed in the United States with the NASL’s St. Louis Stars (1968), last managed in 2003 when he led the Samoa national team.

[ MORE: Maguire shining for Man Utd ]

Those are two of 55 teams he led onto the pitch, 22 of which were national teams. He led teams from CONCACAF (Trinidad and Tobago), CAF (Ghana), CONMEBOL (Chile), OFC (Fiji), and AFC (Australia).

The German-born Gutendorf did a lot of his club work in Europe, leading clubs as big as Hamburg, Schalke, Real Valladolid, and Hertha Berlin.

Gutendorf managed Rwanda in the wake of the country’s dark civil war. From DW.com:

“Such hate, you cannot believe. I was able to unite these two tribes to play football, and good football,” he said in a 2013 interview of the mixed Rwandan team of Hutu and Tutsi players.

What a fascinating career Gutendorf had, and the stories he’s told.

Man Utd’s Maguire “showed what a man he is” versus Leicester

Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United is still working to find its form as a team, but center back Harry Maguire continued his run of fine performances when the Red Devils beat his former team on Saturday.

United beat Leicester City 1-0 on the day, a Marcus Rashford penalty the difference, but Maguire and fellow new back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were again exceptional.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Leicester City ]

Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.

“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”

Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.

He also did not record a loss of possession, and seemingly was unbothered by plenty of criticism from the traveling fans. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”

Solskjaer also loved Maguire and Victor Lindelof for their performance against pesky Leicester star Jamie Vardy.

“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”

Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.

“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”

United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Everton

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets the start up top as Everton looks to take down hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Richarlison join Calvert-Lewin in attack for the Toffees, who can go fourth with a win.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Bournemouth enters the day in 16th, a point ahead of the bottom three, but can rise into the top half with a win. Early season vibes.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Rico, Ake, Cook, Stacey, Solanke, Billing, L. S. Cook, Wilson, King, Wilson. Subs: Boruc, Surman, Lerma, Ibe, Fraser, Simpson, Mepham.

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Walcott, Sidibe, Bernard, Davies, Kean.

USWNT legend O’Reilly scores stunner on night to honor her career

Photo by Mike Stobe/International Champions Cup/Getty Images
Leave a comment

USWNT hero and North Carolina Courage playmaker Heather O’Reilly gave her special day its just desserts.

The 34-year-old New Jersey native scored a sweet goal late in North Carolina’s 6-1 demolition of Orlando Pride on Saturday night, which just so happened to be the evening chosen to celebrate her 17-year career.

[ MORE: Fan banned from all NWSL games ]

O’Reilly dribbled down the left before cutting to the middle and slashing a shot across the goal and inside the far post.

She has 231 USWNT caps with 47 goals, a Women’s World Cup crown, three Olympic gold medals, three top-flight domestic titles, two Women’s College Cups, and an FA Cup with Arsenal Ladies.

The Courage have four matches left in the regular season and look set to again be the No. 1 seed, so O’Reilly may yet have more memorable moments left in her playing career.