Eder

Getty Images

Report: FIFA to consider disciplinary actions for Cameroon after Women’s World Cup outburst

1 Comment

It didn’t help that refereeing decisions had gone against them, but Cameroon’s meltdown at the Women’s World Cup could cost the team, and potentially the federation in the future.

Per a report in the BBC, FIFA has begun investigating Cameroon for “team misconduct, offensive behavior and fair play breaches.” Specifically, Cameroon’s players appeared to lose their emotions surrounding two incidents that involved video assistant referees, or the VAR.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

In the first case, just before halftime, England’s Ellen White was initially ruled offside on a goal she scored, only for VAR to overturn the assistant referee and rule White’s goal could stand, because she was onside by about two feet. After that instance, Cameroon’s players appeared to make an on-field protest, and it wasn’t clear if the game would restart.

In the second half, Cameroon had a goal that was somewhat harshly disallowed after Ajara Nchout had scored to make it 2-1 for England and cut the deficit in half. Gabrielle Onguene, who played the pass into Nchout, was ruled by the VAR to be offside but only by the absolute slightest of margins, her heel.

Again, following this decision, players lost their emotions on the pitch and it took five minutes to restart the game.

Afterwards, Cameroon coach Alain Djeumfa criticized the officiating, calling the game a “miscarriage of justice” as Cameroon were knocked out of the World Cup.

England coach Phil Neville meanwhile said that he was disappointed with the match for all the young generations of fans watching, and it’s possible that FIFA is looking at it from this angle to potentially send a message that everyone must act professional on the field from start to finish, even if tempers run high.

FIFA defends refereeing, VAR criticism in press conference

Getty Images
Leave a comment

FIFA held its usual mid-tournament press conference a the 2019 Women’s World Cup to address the current state of refereeing at the event, and was on the defensive for much of the time due to recent criticism of decisions, laws, and technology.

Chairman of FIFA’s Refereeing Committee Pierluigi Collina was the main speaker, coming out with multiple defenses for incidents that have occurred in the tournament so far. The biggest topics of discussion were VAR use, goalkeeper actions on penalties, and new laws of the game. Instead of highlighting any mistakes that may have been made, Collina spent much of the time – complete with prepared visuals – defending decisions made that have drawn heavy fire.

First, Collina spent time saying how pleased he has been with the implementation of new laws that went into effect at the start of June. He said that in preparation for the changes in the laws of the game, teams were notified as early as December of last year about potential upcoming changes, and were given the ability to play with the new laws in friendlies starting in March to prepare for official changes starting in June. He then told reporters that FIFA sent officials to each team’s delegation upon arrival in France to get feedback and work through any questions the federations may have about new laws, which were apparently well received.

“I have to say that on none of these occasions we received any complaints, any questions…these changes were very well accepted as well as very well accepted in the competitions,” Collina said.

He then addressed the concerns of many, starting with goalkeeper encroachment on penalties, which has been a huge talking point in the Women’s World Cup. Collina’s general point was that the law has actually been relaxed, but technology allows referees to enforce the rule to a far greater extent than in the past, which makes for some jarring moments at first.

“The only issue has concerned penalty kicks, and honestly we have been a bit surprised,” Collina admitted of the criticism.

Collina then went on to verbalize about how fans must get used to the black and white nature of VAR which will give referees the ability to enforce rules such as offside or encroachment to a T, much like goal line technology helps decide whether a goal is in or not.

“If we have a tool that can show clearly without any doubt that there is an offside position and a goal is scored by the player who was in an offside position, it doesn’t matter if it was two centimeters or 20 meters. There is not a small or a big offside, there is an offside. We have a technology which was well received by the entire world which is goal line technology which allows us to see if the ball crossed the line by 0.5 centimeters, so if the ball is over the line by 0.5 centimeters, it is a goal. There is not a big goal or a small goal, it is a goal, it is a fact. If a foul is committed five centimeters outside the penalty area, it is a free kick. If it is five centimeters inside the penalty area, it is a penalty kick, there is no room for any discussion, we have to enforce what is written in the laws of the game. If a goalkeeper moves both feet off the goal line before the penalty kick is taken, we have no choice but to order the penalty kick to be retaken. I repeat, it is not a matter of a small encroachment or big encroachment, it is a matter of encroachment, and this is what we can do by using technology.”

He also then explained that while VAR can be used to enforce goalkeeper encroachment, the only time players will be called for encroachment into the penalty area on the opposite end is when an encroaching player is directly involved in a subsequent play should the goalkeeper keep the ball out. Otherwise, they are at the referee’s discretion and replay review does not come into play.

Finally, Collina made sure to explain that the Women’s World Cup was not considered an “experiment” for new laws, although he did not address the concept that the tournament has been made out to be an experiment for VAR.

“We didn’t consider the Women’s World Cup – which is our flagship tournament in 2019 as a World Cup – we cannot consider this competition as an experiment. I want only to remind you that the new version of the laws of the game have been implemented in Poland U-20 World Cup for the men, has been implemented in the Copa America, has been implemented in AFCON, and also here. So simply, they are implemented in all the competitions.”

Probably the most awkward moment of the press conference was as Collina gave statistics on the tournament so far, a graphic showed how the current tournament has produced 23 penalties to this point in the competition, already one more than the entire 2015 tournament. Collina seemed surprised to see this statistic and offered no explanation for the drastic increase, instead moving on quickly to his next slide.

Still, it must be noted that in a broad sense, Collina is right in his idea that at the end of the day, officials must enforce rules as black & white and, unless exceptions are officially logged in the future, hold players to the rules that are written. Referees are only able to enforce what is written, and for the most part the problems in the World Cup have not been with the use of technology, but rather the rules they enforce that need editing to accommodate the new availability of replay review.

You can watch the full press conference by clicking here.

Jill Ellis must be assertive if USWNT is to beat France

Getty Images
2 Comments

The United States women beat Spain 2-1 on Monday in spite of their head coach, not because of her. That much is a fact.

The USWNT survived and advanced thanks to a soft late penalty in a game that saw upstart and plucky Spain rise to the challenge and go toe-to-toe with one of the best squads in the world. It didn’t have to be that way.

Jill Ellis had about four or five potential substitutions staring her in the face as early as halftime, and yet she didn’t make her first change until the 85th minute, a frankly inexcusable fact. If she remains that passive against France in the quarterfinals, the United States will be headed home faster than you can say “free Carli Lloyd.” While the U.S. eventually came out victorious thanks to a soft penalty with 15 minutes to go, the sigh of relief does not exonerate Ellis on the day she matched the USWNT career games coached record.

Ellis said before the match that both Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz, who had missed World Cup group stage time with minor injuries, were “fine.” It was obvious that Morgan was not “fine” as she appeared to be running with a piano on her back, unable to make her trademark runs between the lines and nowhere to be found on counter-attacks. At one point in the second half, Morgan found herself on the ball down the right flank in acres of space, and instead of charging into the space, she waited for a defender to close her down before firing a speculative long-ball towards the box that deflected off the defender and landed harmlessly in front of the Spanish goalkeeper.

If it wasn’t clear Morgan was injured by her play on the field, it was obvious as the game wound down when, as she was set to take the second penalty, a switch was made to Rapinoe during the VAR review – if Ellis knew Morgan was too hurt to take a viable penalty, how could she possibly contribute in open play? With Carli Lloyd and Christen Press on the bench, Ellis fell asleep at the wheel, instead preferring to see a hampered Morgan trudge around the pitch for 85 minutes before mercifully making a change well after the U.S. had retaken the lead in fortunate fashion.

While Morgan toiled up front to little return, Megan Rapinoe also had one of her worst games in a USWNT shirt down the left flank, despite her brace from the spot. The U.S. co-captain was continually dispossessed, choosing to barge into defenders and fall over rather than look to beat them one-on-one and deliver her patented vicious crosses from deep in the corner. Rapinoe’s Spanish marks Marta Corredera and Lucia Garcia down their right were more than up to the task, continually stopping Rapinoe in her tracks and flipping possession. With Mallory Pugh ready to go on the bench, Ellis was again caught napping as Rapinoe faded further and further into oblivion. She was almost invisible in the second half, at one point receiving the ball for a counter-attack and slamming on the brakes, ending the danger with a back-pass that forced Fox commentator JP Dellacamera to incredulously exclaim – after a moment to process the ruined opportunity – “It seemed like it was on.” You could feel him shaking his head.

Finally, there was the pre-match decision to sit Lindsay Horan, one of the most valuable U.S. players. While it’s difficult to criticize the decision to leave Horan out – with the midfielder on a yellow card, a calculated risk to sit her before a potential meeting with France is an understandable and defensible strategy, even if some may not agree – her decision to then bring Horan on with one minute remaining in regulation and seven minutes of stoppage time was absolutely unthinkable. The end of an overly physical game is a breeding ground for a late flurry of cautions, and if Horan had sat the majority of a tough match before coming on in garbage time to earn a suspension against France would have been utterly deplorable.

Ellis had a plethora of possible substitutions at her disposal, each of which would have likely swung the game in the U.S.’s favor, and yet she sat on her hands for 85 minutes before the game was in hand. Tobin Heath took a beating in the second half and could have used a change as the game wore on. Becky Sauerbrunn hardly covered herself in glory on occasion. Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle were the best players on the pitch but had little help in the final third.

But don’t take my word for it, take Andy’s.

With a highly anticipated quarterfinal against France now confirmed, Ellis must be far more assertive on the touchline if the United States is to match up against an opponent who can match them not just physically but also technically. No disrespect to Spain, who deserve all the credit in the world for not only bringing a disrupting amount of situational physicality to the pitch but also a superior tactical game plan, but the test on Friday against France will be even more difficult. As a fellow favorite to win the title and as host nation sure to draw a hostile environment for the Americans, France will prove a worthy opponent and have all the talent needed to prove a legitimate threat. It wasn’t easy for the French either in the Round of 16, needing an extra-time goal from Amandine Henry to squeeze by a down Brazil side, but they will still be up to the task.

After the stinker against Spain, the U.S. head coach must be up to it as well, or the Stars & Stripes will be going home from the 2019 World Cup disappointingly early, and will only have themselves to blame. Against France, there will be moments where a substitution will be necessary to regain hold of the game or fill a gap the opponent is good enough to exploit. Jill Ellis must face the truth: there’s nowhere to hide against the hosts, and the only way to get by such a daunting task will be an aggressive approach off the bench.

Three things we learned from USMNT win

AP Photo/David Dermer
1 Comment

As the U.S. men’s national team creeps ever so slowly toward delivering a 90-minute performance to be proud of, here’s what we learned as Gregg Berhalter’s side thrashed Trinidad & Tobago for five second-half goals in a 6-0 victory in the Gold Cup on Saturday…

[ MORE: USMNT starts slow, destroys T&T with five second-half goals (video) ]

The midfield still looks like a rudderless ship (at times)

It would be unwise — if temptingly easy — to overlook the USMNT’s slow start and focus solely on the final scoreline, because for much of the first 45 minutes — especially the first 15 — there were some major issues in the middle of the field.

It’s unclear whether this is due to the system — say, the forward line isn’t putting enough pressure on the ball higher up the field — or if the chemistry in midfield has just been slow to come together. In truth, it’s probably a bit of both.

Michael Bradley and Weston McKennie have had precious little time to work together and figure out the balance between themselves — a pair of high-energy midfielders who’ll cover ground from one endline to the endline if you ask them to do so. On a handful of occasions, each of them were caught much too high upfield together, which resulted in an unimpeded jaunt through the center of the field as soon as possession was lost.

These kinks will, with any luck, work themselves out as the past/present midfield general hands over the reins to the future/present midfield general. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if Panama, or any of the region’s other big boys, find plenty of joy the same way T&T did for periods on Saturday.

Real danger comes from the wings

For the time being at least, just about every meaningful USMNT attack originates from, or is directed toward, the wings. If you’re at all familiar with how the Columbus Crew played under Berhalter, that won’t come as any surprise — especially, considering the American player pool is completely devoid of a Federico Higuain-type playmaker in the middle.

On Saturday, it was a joy to behold some of the diagonal balls being played over the top (HERE, HERE and HERE) and on the ground (below) to find wide players in space. For the vast majority of the game, balls out to wide areas were the USMNT’s first, second and third option. They achieved this by overloading both the right and left sides again and again — Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola on the left, and Nick Lima and Tyler Boyd on the right.

It worked against a team like T&T, a side without aerially dominant center backs, but is unlikely to prove six-goals successful against CONCACAF’s best later in this tournament, let alone World Cup-caliber sides.

It’s not actually about winning the Gold Cup

The number of times we’ll have to remind ourselves of the following over the next months is, perhaps, infinite: the results matter very little right now, it’s all about the performances and the partnerships being cultivated with the 2022 World Cup in mind.

Would it be nice to regain the CONCACAF crown and lift the Gold Cup in a couple weeks’ time? Not really, but sure. Would it be nice to get as many of the remaining growing pains — and there are plenty, evidenced by those first 45 minutes on Saturday — out of the way as soon as possible? Absolutely.

The USMNT’s next attempt at World Cup qualifying will likely begin sometime next year, and winning this tournament at the cost of long-term progress will do them no favors then. There’s plenty of learning for the current crop of young players to do when it comes to pacing themselves for the long haul of a tournament competition and gaining experience in competitive games against teams they’ll likely see in the business rounds of WCQ, no doubt about it, but veering away from playing those young players in favor of picking veterans who can win now remains the worst possible thing Berhalter could do.

Thus far, he’s done well to resist any urge he might, or might not, have had.

Africa Cup of Nations: Nigeria beats Burundi on late goal

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CAIRO (AP) Odion Ighalo scored a late winner four minutes after coming on as a substitute to see a relieved Nigeria squeeze past tournament debutant Burundi 1-0 at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday.

Nigeria had been warned when the second day of the tournament opened with its first major surprise: Uganda, playing at the Cup of Nations for the first time in 41 years, beat former champion Congo 2-0.

Nigeria ultimately prevailed over the newcomers when Ighalo pounced to bury his chance in Egypt’s second largest city of Alexandria.

The forward slipped in behind the Burundi defense after a backheeled pass by Ola Aina. He opened his body and stroked a right foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner.

Three-time champion Nigeria deserved the win on the second half evidence, but not on the first 45 minutes.

Then, Burundi was the more adventurous team on the biggest day in its soccer history.

Cedric Amissi controlled a long pass superbly but had his shot blocked by Nigeria `keeper Daniel Akpeyi. Akpeyi struggled to keep out a powerful long-range free kick by Gael Bigirimana and Frederic Nsabiyumva hit the crossbar with a header.

“It was a very difficult game,” Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel said. “It was tough. We knew that they are a tough team. They can run and run and run.”