Bassett’s long journey takes cruel twist, but England women show future is bright

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Laura Bassett started playing soccer in Bedworth, right smack dab in the center of England, at about the same time FIFA got around to sponsoring a women’s World Cup in 1991 (officially, the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup). Bedworth was a tiny club, and women’s soccer was still something that had gained as much resistance as traction (the FA wouldn’t sponsor an English national team until two years later), but that didn’t stop her.

At 13, she moved to nearby Coventry, at 17 to bigger Birmingham, where she played for eight years in obscurity, except to the small amount of people in England who recognized that women played football. At 19, she debuted for England, and has been in and out of the national team lineup for the last 12 years. Along that time, her nomadic career (she did stay at Birmingham for eight seasons) continued with stops with the New York Magic of the USL W-League, Arsenal, Leeds, back to Birmingham, to Chelsea, and to Notts County, where she’ll play this season.

Bassett finally clawed her way onto a World Cup roster in 2011, but played in just one match (ironically in a win over Japan). The following year, in what stood to be the most high-profile tournament of her career, the Olympics in Great Britain, Bassett was left off the Great Britain roster (which was 18 players at the Olympics instead of 23 at this World Cup), and had to watch from the stands.

But, although she’ll turn 32 years old next month, here was Bassett this month in Canada leading an English defense that looked ready to go all the way to the World Cup final. She took an elbow to the face from Gaetane Thiney in the opener against France, but it was going to take more than that to get her out of the lineup she waited so long to break into.

And then, as England pushed for a winner in second-half stoppage time of the World Cup semifinals with their whole nation behind them, Japan broke down the right side with Bassett retreating as quickly as she could. She was in good position to cut off a cross, but she stumbled as the ball didn’t get to her quite as fast as she thought. She was able to get a toe to it, and 99 times out of 100 may have been lauded as a hero when the ball floated harmlessly out for a corner kick.

As we know now, this one didn’t.

Instead it flew over the head of helpless England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, off the crossbar, and across the goal line by a yard. The moment Bassett could never dreamed of when she was a little girl, with the whole soccer world watching, ended with her inconsolable as England’s dream came to an end in the worst possible way, a 2-1 loss to Japan.

(It wasn’t the first time Bassett had been involved in a game-winning own goal. In Euro 2013, Bassett scored one of her two international goals only to see Spain win on a late own goal from Bardsley. England eventually did not escape the group stages, which led to the dismissal of long-time coach Hope Powell.)

We’ve already established at this World Cup that sports aren’t fair, but we learned something else on Wednesday. The outpouring of support for Bassett began almost immediately and came from all corners of the women’s soccer world. Everyone had been in a situation like Bassett at one time or another in their careers, and they knew how she must feel at this moment. They know, even though it’s a World Cup and a moment she worked her whole life for, that one moment should not define who she is, either as a player or a person.

They also know that these England players — especially Bassett, who was outstanding Wednesday — have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about. They were fantastic, and were probably slightly better (certainly on crossbars hit) against the defending world champions. Like France, the soccer gods just weren’t on their side on this night.

So while Bassett and England will always wonder what might have been, they’ll also know they left everything they possibly could on the artificial turf in Edmonton. And that’s all you can ever do.

What else did we learn Wednesday?

1) England’s transformation over the course of the World Cup was amazing
In a match now lost to history as many early group stage matches in a tournament become, England – with almost the same exact lineup it took the field with Wednesday – was dreadful in a loss to France. Yes, they only lost 1-0, but they never looked like they wanted to attack, content to sit back and defend, managing just three shots and no shots on goal until a hopeful long-range effort in stoppage time. Some three weeks later, they were all over a similarly technical team like Japan, giving them no space or time, and taking the match to them on set pieces and Japanese mistakes rarely seen in any other match. Lucy Bronze likely played her way onto the all-tournament team and several other English players showed well, as did their coach Mark Sampson, who figured it out as the tournament went along.

2) The ending should not take away from Japan’s accomplishments
Other games now lost to history are the two friendlies Japan and the United States played leading up to the 2011 World Cup, both completely dominated by the U.S. Of course, Japan stunningly won the World Cup a couple of months later, but will now go to its third straight major international final (all three against the U.S.). Before 2011, Japan had gotten out of a group stage of the World Cup only once (1995), and did have a fourth place at the Olympics in 2008, but that was mostly considered a fluke thanks to a kind draw (the U.S. dispatched of them 4-2 in the semifinals and Germany beat them easily in the bronze-medal game). You can argue they were a little lucky on Wednesday, but their success over the last four years is certainly not attributable to just good fortune.

3) Anna-Marie Keighley was a little over her head, but …
Keighley missed two first-half penalty calls, and generally looked nervous in this contest, which leads us to wonder why someone as inexperienced as she is would be in the middle of such a huge match. She celebrated her 33rd birthday on Tuesday, and only started officiating at any level in 2005. Although she did have some experience at the U-17 World Cup, how many high-level matches could she possibly have refereed in New Zealand? So (as Equalizer contributor Jennifer Gordon pointed out as well) it becomes a chicken and egg thing. We want experienced officials, but where are they supposed to get the experience in big women’s matches if there aren’t any? Still, putting a young referee from Oceania on a match like this seems to be asking for trouble.

[MORE: FIFA explains all-female referee crew for Women’s World Cup]

4) Can we get Great Britain in the Olympics?
I’m no British citizen, but it seems like this English team has earned the right to play at the Olympics in Brazil next summer. And they would be even better with the addition of someone like a Kim Little or a Jess Fishlock, likely medal contenders. But politics still trumps soccer, I guess. Maybe they’ll do it for Laura Bassett?

5) On to the finals
The United States will enter as massive favorites after they were much more impressive in their semifinal, but they were four years ago as well. The biggest problem for Japan is how they will be able to keep the ball against the expected pressure of the U.S. and beyond that, how they’ll score. But, again, they managed to do it twice four years ago, so ruling them out completely seems extremely unwise. But we’ll see.

USMNT reportedly opens contract talks with Gregg Berhalter; Good or bad idea?

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Gregg Berhalter may be sticking around the United States men’s national team program, giving the USMNT coaching continuity as it moves from 2022 World Cup Round of 16 member to 2026 World Cup co-host.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle says that Berhalter is beginning contract discussions with the United States Soccer Federation but also interested in taking a job in Europe with his profile having risen alongside the USMNT at the World Cup.

Berhalter’s current contract ends at the end of the calendar year, and the Yanks have scheduled a domestic camp in January and friendlies against Serbia and Colombia.

[ MORE: USMNT transfer rumors for Musah, Dest ]

Berhalter has done some good things for the program, most notably winning the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup with two different groups. He also straightened out the defending, for the most part, and got out of the World Cup group.

Berhalter successfully recruited Sergino Dest and Yunus Musah, two of the program’s stars at the World Cup. He also convinced Malik Tillman, Gaga Slonina, and Jesus Ferreira that the U.S. was the right place for their national team futures.

He also, subjectively, was slow if not downright stubborn in acquiesing to certain points-of-view that made the team better. From Tyler Adams as a right back at the outset of his tenure to saying Tim Ream didn’t fit how he wanted to play about a month before the World Cup… then playing him every minute of the tournament.

But for the most part when lessons were learned, they stayed learned.

Should Gregg Berhalter continue as USMNT boss?

Let’s start here, because it’s necessary: It’s clear that Berhalter cared about his players and the project, whether you like the way he operated or not. This wasn’t a half-assed operation, but one with passion.

So does he still have that passion? Only he can answer that, and if he’d like to get more matchdays in his life then maybe he does want to go back to the club game.

And frankly, that’s fine either way, because his four years with the program were neither amazing nor pitiful. They can be described as anything from a slight disappointment to a minor success, depending on your perspective and expectations.

If you believe that picking up the pieces from the absolute travesty that was failing to qualify for the World Cup from the richest nation and one of the two most talented nations amongst CONCACAF men’s programs was really hard, then you think Berhalter getting the men to the 2022 World Cup and surviving the group with a young group was a solid step in the right direction and a minor success.

If you believe that the American soccer climate is such that you should always make the World Cup out of one of the world’s lesser confederations and that the Yanks progressed as the second team of a group in which they were the second-ranked team according to FIFA and Elo Ratings, well, you can have a different standard.

The Yanks will never again fail to qualify for the World Cup given the expanded field, but hosts have historically had a drastically-improved chance to reach the semifinals. THe federation would have to be confident that picking the best squad regardless of how it reflects on his previous selections — let alone a Best XI — is going to happen under a given coach.

Berhalter’s 49 and is far from the worst or best boss in USMNT history. Whoever’s in the job four years from now will have a chance to go down as either one. Choose wisely, fed. And Gregg! Who knows how far his star could rise with a solid run in Europe, and history says there will be the chance to reconnect with the USMNT job.

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Premier League table, 2022-23 season

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If it’s the 2022-23 Premier League table you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

We’re at the 2022 World Cup break, and the final few rounds of Premier League fixtures caused so many shocks.

Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?

Almost at the halfway mark of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest.

The Gunners will have their hands full for the duration of their title challenge, as Erling Haaland continues to take the Premier League by storm with an almost impossible goal-scoring record.

Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United are locked in a battle for the top four, while Liverpool have improved and will be back in the Champions League scrap and Chelsea are struggling.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Who are the early-season candidates for relegation?

Newly promoted Nottingham Forest moved off the bottom of the table with a win before the break, with Wolves and Southampton currently occupying the other two relegation places.

Leicester have picked up a few big wins, while West Ham, Everton and Leeds all find themselves within a few points of the bottom-three after a topsy-turvy start.

Below you will find the latest Premier League table.


Premier League table – Matchweek 16

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England vs France: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Match 59 of the 2022 World Cup features a pair of European heavyweights duking it out for a place in the semifinals when England faces France on Saturday.

Didier Deschamps’ France is bidding to become a back-to-back World Cup winner, but Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are tournament-hardened and have shown their explosive nature three times this tournament.

STREAM ENGLAND vs FRANCE LIVE

France beat Poland 3-1 in its Round of 16 match while England overcame a dodgy start to pound Senegal 3-0.

Neither team can say its faced a test like this in the tournament, and this could be a fantastic fight in Qatar.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for England vs France.


How to watch England vs France live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday, December 1
Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

England will look to Harry Kane, though the question remains who will flank the Tottenham center forward. Marcus Rashford’s been very good but Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden got the starting spots against Senegal and it paid off for Southgate.

Kylian Mbappe has been borderline unstoppable and will test Harry Maguire, John Stones, and friends and Antoine Griezmann pulls the strings in behind and Aurelien Tchouameni continues to strengthen his reputation in the center of the pitch.


England quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Pickford

France quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 4
World Cup titles: 2 (1998, 2018)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (Won Group D)
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Key players: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann

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Croatia vs Brazil: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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World Cup-savvy Croatia stands in the way of stylish Brazil’s pursuit of a sixth World Cup crown, and the pair promise a complex match-up on Friday in Al Rayyan.

Match 58 of the 2022 World Cup kicks off the quarterfinals as Neymar leads Tite’s star-studded CONMEBOL powers into a match against the 2018 runners-up.

STREAM CROATIA vs BRAZIL LIVE

Croatia got past Japan in penalties and will now dream of the two wins that could set it back in the final where France could again be waiting for a juicy rematch.

Croatia needed penalties to get past Japan in the Round of 16, while Brazil pasted South Korea 4-1.  Croatia has never beaten Brazil in four meetings, losing at the 2006 and 2014 World Cups.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Croatia vs Brazil.


How to watch Croatia vs Brazil live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Friday, December 9
Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic was fantastic in penalties versus Japan to get here, but Luka Modric continues to do the things that get Croatia out of trouble and puts the opponents into heaps of it. Josko Gvardiola has arguably been the defender of the tournament, and the 20-year-old looks to test his mettle again against the Selecao.

Pick a Brazil player who’s failed to impress and you’ve achieved a mighty feat. Neymar’s been fantastic when healthy while RIcharlison is in serious pursuit of the Golden Boot. Alisson Becker flexed his muscles once or twice versus South Korea and figures to be busier as the competition continues to heat up in Qatar.


Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic, Josko Gvardiol

Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Follow @NicholasMendola