Euros/Copa/W/AfWCon Update

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Sunday saw the end of the first round of group stage matches in Euro 2022, which also marked the end of the first week and a half of this month of women’s international football (38 of 100 games this month). I managed to watch almost all of the Euro games (missing only the second half of Portugal – Switzerland and all but the opening 20′ of France’s routing of Italy), the US win over Haiti in the W Championship, and Brazil – Argentina as well as the first hour of Colombia – Paraguay in the Copa America Femenina. I also had the final group stage game between Senegal and Morocco on my watchlist, but ran out of time and will be looking forward to taking in some of the quarterfinals from the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations later this week (probably Thursday’s Cameroon – Nigeria matchup).

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The best game of these opening rounds was unsurprisingly the 1-1 draw between powerhouses Netherlands (winner of the 2017 Euros and finalists in the 2019 World Cup) and Sweden (3rd place in the 2019 World Cup and finalists–as well as the tournament’s best team–in the 2020/21 Olympics). Peter Gerhardsson’s Sweden is a much more dynamic team than past iterations of the Blågult, and are currently place 2nd in FIFA rankings and 3rd in ELO rankings (compared to Oranje’s 4th FIFA/5th ELO). They dominated a first half in which the Dutch lost both their starting keeper, Sara van Veenendaal, and center back Aniek Nouwen to injury, and they probably should have scored more than the one goal they took in at halftime.

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But tactical tweaks from Mark Parsons (who currently manages both the Netherlands and the Portland Thorns) made for a different second half. The first change came at the end of the 1st, when left back Marisa Olislagers replaced the injured Nouwen (Jonna Andersson moving inside as a makeshift center back). Then at the restart, Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk swapped places, van de Donk moving out right to allow Roord to play underneath Vivianne Miedema. With a natural striker now in the #10 role, Miedema, who is something of an attacking #10 herself, had more freedom to roam without depriving the Netherlands of a central focus for their attack (van de Donk is a true #10, and less adept at filling that gap).

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These changes shifted the Dutch attack to the wings and freed Miedema up to engage there, which led to an early equalizer and a much more fiercely contested second half. The Dutch looked more likely winners in the second, but over the full 90′ Sweden was probably the better side. With Portugal’s exhilarating come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Switzerland (a match well worth watching), both Sweden and the Netherlands will need to take care of business to ensure advancing to the knockout rounds.

While this opening week of games has seen favorites prevail, sometimes with lop-sided results, I have generally been impressed with the quality of second-tier national sides. This is true even outside of Europe; both Haiti and Argentina proved serious competitors against the United States and Brazil, notwithstanding the 3-0 and 4-0 scorelines.

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It was similarly nice to see Finland leading Spain for over 20′, and for Northern Ireland to get their first major tournament goal against Norway. 2017 finalists Denmark did suffer mightily at the hands of Germany (whom they had eliminated in the quarterfinals last time around), and the less said about Italy’s 1st half capitulation to France the better. But 2017 semifinalists Austria looked defensively strong once again in their 1-0 loss to England, and their final group game against Norway could be a decisive one. Broadly speaking, the quality of these 2nd (and 3rd) tier sides is where the growth of the women’s game is most noticeable.

The games I am most looking forward to over the next four days are this afternoon’s England – Norway and Paraguay – Chile matches, then tomorrow afternoon’s Germany – Spain. Though not quite as exciting, Thursday will feature the AfWCon quarterfinal between Cameroon and Nigeria, and the W Championship semifinals, likely featuring the US against Costa Rica and Canada facing Haiti (tonight’s final four group stage matches will determine those positions). Look for my next update sometime on Friday.

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