When the US women square up against France tomorrow (noon EST), they will be facing one of the tournament’s toughest opponents. Les Bleues lost the 2011 World Cup semifinal to the Americans and players didn’t hold back in expressing their anger at the result. Louisa Necib put it plainly enough to L’Equipe: “The worst is that we were better than them.”
As luck would have it, I was in the team’s hotel lobby when the more beautiful team (as they dubbed themselves) rolled in after that match. They didn’t look defeated at all. They seemed, in fact, defiant.
As it happens, US women were staying in the same hotel and the post-match party was in a hall just off the lobby. They piled out of the bus exhilarated, jubilant, radiating with joy. Abby Wambach had a halo around her head.
Necib, Elodie Thomis and the ascot-wearing FFF entourage glowered at the doors behind which the USWNT celebrated their win. It was clear they felt robbed.
The US won on the strength of their counterattack. They did steal the win. The USWNT have a different kind of skill than that for which the French team is known. It’s the classic match up – physical strength and strategy against skill on the ball.
My overall take: France is capable of winning the whole thing. Winning a tournament is the only thing they haven’t done, and that’s probably their biggest obstacle.
Germany is out thanks to the shitty IOC/FIFA qualification process. Nigeria, which wears down every team it plays until someone finally sends them home (thus doing important work for everyone left) has been set back years by mismanagement. England and Brazil will make it out of their groups. But Brazil has not looked right recently. They could implode. It’s not impossible. Something is rotten in São Paulo and if they don’t take home a medal the players should freaking strike.
Japan are of course world champions and their group looks not so bad – South Africa is weak and inexperienced. Canada’s performance in the World Cup was underwhelming. Japan v Sweden (7/28) is obviously a match to watch – their World Cup face-off was a nail-biter.
France and the US are in a group with the ever mysterious North Koreans – who by all rights should not be at the Olympics, having been banned from the 2015 World Cup for doping and not having been subjected to testing in their qualifying matches. Thanks FIFA!
Columbia are also in this group: they have scrap. But if France and the US don’t make it out of this group, it’ll be a freaking scandal. Either because one was beaten by a serious underdog (with some exciting young players) or because one was beaten by a squad that’s been banned for doping. But events shouldn’t play out that way: teams like North Korean, violated and abused by their management, are not usually able to pull out the big win.