While some of us are fretting over the Americans' 13-0 drubbing of Thailand in the Women’s World Cup, let us look for the reasons for the mismatch.
Let us look at FIFA. You remember FIFA, the world soccer body, once seen suffering mass arrests of officials in a lush Swiss hotel, for legal and financial improprieties.
That FIFA. The world soccer federation, that gave us the brokered convention that led to Russia holding the 2018 World Cup for men in Russia (reasonable enough) and the 2022 World Cup coming up in Qatar, that world powerhouse in the hot desert.
That convention was marked by packets of American $100 bills to buy the votes of delegates.
I believe the “A” in FIFA stands for Avarice.
Now FIFA is lusting to expand its men’s World Cup from 48 teams to 64, as soon as it can get away with it. This will somehow make more money for the friendly folks from FIFA, even if it guts the grand institution of qualifying regional tournaments, with quadrennial upsets of established teams.
What? You thought the cupidity and stupidity ended with the canning of goofy old Sepp Blatter? There’s more where he came from. (Now there is talk of starting a permanent super-team league in Europe; these people must hate their own sport.)
What does this catalogue of avarice have to do with the 13-0 goalfest by Alex Morgan and her teammates? Plenty. Expansion produced the one-sided match.
To be fair to FIFA, it did create a women’s World Cup in 1991, with 12 teams in China, and the United States winning. FIFA recognized the talent and desire to play on the part of women, and the WWC challenged nations that treated women as second-rate citizens in sports as well as more important ways. The WWC spurred FIFA to expand to 16 and then to 24 in 2015.
Group play was sometimes ragged, but as nations caught on, there were more competitive teams. The United States – boosted by Title IX legislation plus the appeal of women’s sports – won three of the first seven World Cups, but never lacked for worthy opponents.
Veterans of early World Cups will not forget the vigilance of Linda Medalen, an Oslo cop, who anchored the back line and loved to beat up on the Yanks. Or Ann-Kristen Aarones whose header provided an early lead in the 1995 semifinal, won by Norway. Or the Chinese stalwarts who pushed the U.S. into a shootout in the 1999 finals. Or Birgit Prinz who anchored the German team in 2003 that knocked out the U.S. in the semifinals, or Marta, the gunner who scored twice in Brazil’s 4-0 victory over the U.S. in the 2007 final, or Homare Sawa, the smooth Japanese midfielder who sparked a shootout victory in the 2011 final.
The point is, nations have been shamed or inspired to upgrade women’s soccer, producing great players and dangerous teams – Sweden, Canada, and so on. But let’s be realistic: the women’s sport has produced rivalries and memories and technical skills but not the kind of depth that can fill out a competitive 24-team format.
Soccer doesn't lend itself to showing superfluous mercy. Plus, male World Cup defenders are big enough to fill up the field a bit more, nasty enough to grind down opponents and wily enough to kill the clock, to minimize losses, even to settle a few scores in the closing minutes (a memorable cheap shot by an Italian player against a Spanish opponent in 1994) plus operatic swoons by the divas of the male game (women do not dive, essentially.)
The women stay on their feet, and they keep on playing, which led to that 13-0 mismatch the other day. I read a story in the Times by Hannah Beech, the great correspondent in Bangkok, about the impact of that loss. Life went on, she reported.
As clearly seen in the opener, the U.S. has waves of talent, worthy of Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach and so many other stars of past World Cups. But down the line, they are going to meet opponents with the swagger of Medalen or the talent of Prinz or the poise of Sawa or the opportunism of Marta.
Save your scorn for FIFA as it lusts for a totally unnecessary 64-team World Cup, as soon as the barons of FIFA can slip it in.
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