July 6, 2011
Women's soccer shines on world stage
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
When the Canadian women return home after losing all three of their World Cup games in Germany, there will be questions about what happened to a team that was supposed to be competitive at the very least.
There are multiple reasons for Canada's failure -- and one of the biggest has to do with all the other teams.
This World Cup has been a showcase for the stratospheric improvement in the women's game over the past four years.
Not only have the world's top teams improved their calibre of play but they have managed to find great depth in their rosters. There was a time when the top teams would have a starting lineup of good players but little else. Now the top teams go 15, 16 deep.
The teams that haven't traditionally been considered powers now have numerous quality players.
Most surprising has been the parity of this tournament. In most World Cups you can be guaranteed of a massive blowout, a 7-0, 8-0 game. Not this year. There are no more punching bags when you get to the World Cup.
Canada went into the tournament ranked No. 6 in the world. Those rankings are based on results, quality of opponents and number of games played. When Canada drew Germany, France and Nigeria at the World Cup, prognosticators felt they knew how the group would go.
Canada would lose to Germany, have a tough game with France but probably win and without question would beat Nigeria. They were right about Canada losing to Germany.
That probably would have happened four years ago, but no one counted on the improvement in the play of the other nations.
The women's game doesn't get the same respect as the men's game nor does it get the same coverage. Major women's tournaments generally get only local coverage. Who knew there was a European nation's tournament for women, yet the men's tournament gets exhaustive attention.
The women's game has developed with far less fanfare or dissection than the men's.
But on the world stage in Germany. it became obvious quickly that the women's game is worth the price of admission.
It wasn't just Canada's group. Equatorial Guinea was supposed to be this tournament's punching bag, but the bag punched back. New Zealand was terrific and Australia had a stunner by beating Norway and making the quarterfinals.
The changes in the women's game are significant. The technique and skill are so much better than in previous years.
But the enormity of how much better the game has become can be seen in three areas.
First is the pace of the game. The decisions are made swiftly. And the players are so much quicker and in better shape.
Second is the women's ability in the air. There have been numerous headed goals in the first round, well-taken goals that were a rarity in the women's game years ago.
The third focuses on the women's improved sense of tactics and how to play the game. There was a time when the strong won, when the style of play was kick and chase. Now most women's teams are able to push the ball around the park. Players understand how to find open space and run to it.
In many ways the women's game is more enjoyable to watch on some levels than the men's.
You know in most games there will be goals scored and often more than one.
There is less cynicism in the women's game. Most of them play an attractive game to win rather than avoid losing.
There is less cheating and play-acting for the women. If a player goes down and stays down, chances are she is really hurt. It's far different than watching men roll around on the pitch after almost every challenge.
This World Cup has been called a watershed moment for the woman's game. It's being played in a professional environment with large crowds in a soccer-mad country.
In response, the players have taken advantage of this opportunity to show the world just how far their game has come.