I’m resisting the temptation to talk about Austria’s win straight away and instead sticking with the plan of catching up on the past week in the CONCACAF W Championship, Copa América Femenina, and Women’s AFRICA Cup of Nations. Here goes:
The week began with the final round of W Championship group play and ended, on Thursday, with the semifinals. The more unexpected results came from Group B, where the United States (1st FIFA & ELO) took until the 89′ to score a goal against a Mexico side that had gone a woman down at 73′. Jamaica – Haiti was also a much better game than the 4-0 scoreline suggested–and I’m not just saying that because of my previous prediction that Haiti would likely advance. In fact, the game remained close until 70′, with fantastic chances from both Melchie Dumornay and Roselord Borgella. Haiti (61st FIFA, 47th ELO) will still have a chance to make the World Cup, as both they and Panama (58th FIFA, 50th ELO) qualified for the Inter-Confederation Playoffs in February.
The semifinals were unfortunately undercut by both Costa Rica (36th FIFA, 26th ELO) and Jamaica (51st FIFA, 38th ELO) resting players in anticipation of the 3rd place game. This decision is slightly less perplexing given that the winner of that game will meet the loser of the final in September 2023 in a play-in match for the 2024 Olympics. While it’s not clear that beating the United States or Canada in 14 months time will be any easier than beating them now, I suppose hope springs eternal.
In any event, Canada (6th FIFA, 7th ELO) and the United States (with matching 3-0 semifinal wins) will face off on Monday evening in a game that unquestionably deserves as much attention as anything in the Euros (but is also wisely scheduled before the start of their knock-out rounds).
Copa América Femenina
While Haiti might not have lived up to my hype, Paraguay has definitely made good on the promise of their opening game, an exciting 4-2 loss to hosts (and 2nd best CONMEBOL side) Colombia (26th FIFA, 24th ELO). In their second group match, Paraguay produced a commanding (if also entertaining) 3-2 win over Chile, either the 3rd or 4th best team in CONMEBOL (37th FIFA, 34th ELO).
That win gives Paraguay (50th FIFA, 44th ELO) a real chance at 2nd place in Group A, notwithstanding Chile’s 2-1 victory over Ecuador on Thursday. While Chile will almost certainly win their next match against Bolivia to equal Paraguay on points (who sit out that round of matches, having themselves beaten Bolivia on Thursday), they will then need to beat Colombia or hope that Paraguay cannot win against Ecuador (65th FIFA, 69th ELO) in the final round of group games next Wednesday.
Brazil (9th FIFA, 8th ELO) is unsurprisingly dominating Group B, and not finishing first in the group would be a real shock. Likewise, Argentina (34th FIFA, 35th ELO) have bounced back from a crushing 4-0 loss in their opener against Brazil with 4-0 and 5-0 wins against (women’s) minnows Peru (66th FIFA, 71st ELO) and Uruguay (71st FIFA, 80th ELO).
The fly in the ointment, however, may be their final group game against Venezuela next Friday. Venezuela (53rd FIFA, 48th ELO) are currently level with Argentina on points, and while they will quite likely lose to Brazil on Monday (during Argentina’s bye round), that will set up a winner-takes-all match for 2nd place between them in the final group game.
Women’s Africa Cup of Nations
My good intentions regarding the WAfCoN have thus far been just that. I intended to watch the Cameroon – Nigeria quarterfinal on Thursday, and just like the Morroco – Senegal game I had intended to watch last weekend, it failed to happen. I did watch the highlights from all of Cameroon’s and Nigeria’s group stage games in preparation for the quarterfinal I didn’t watch, however, and they suggested that my intentions were justified, however poor my follow-through. While Africa may lack a Brazil or a United States and a Canada to focus international attention, the games I “watched” looked promising enough.
The best writing I have seen on the tournament is Nick Miller’s excellent (but pay-walled) article on The Athletic, which I highly recommend. Miller describes a well-run tournament that both demonstrates and is further encouraging the growth of the women’s game on the continent. Not unlike the Euros, several big names have been injured or weren’t called up. The most famous of these is Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala, who was injured in Nigeria’s opening game; and the most disturbing is Zambia’s Barbara Banda, who appears to have been a victim of testosterone policing.
If you are considering catching a game in the coming week, it’s worth noting that Miller describes Nigeria, CAF’s highest-ranked team (39th FIFA, 23rd ELO), as the team to beat; and Zambia (103rd FIFA, 60th ELO) as the most exciting side he has personally watched at the tournament. Both have advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals, which will be broadcast live on Bein Sports; Zambia against South Africa (57th FIFA, 45th ELO) at 12:00 PM CDT, and Nigeria against host nation Morocco (77th FIFA, 67th ELO) at 3:00 PM CDT.
Happily for the quarterfinal losers–Cameroon (52nd FIFA, 40th ELO), Tunisia (72nd FIFA, 70th ELO) Senegal (89th FIFA, 77th ELO), and at least theoretically Botswana (154th FIFA, 108th ELO)–two of those sides will enter the Inter-Confederation Playoffs in February. The Repechage matches to decide which teams it will be are on Monday. Cameroon will probably feel slightly more confident about their chances against Botswana than the more evenly matched Tunisia and Senegal.
Given the striking disparities between FIFA and ELO rankings for some of these Africans sides, it’s perhaps worth reminding readers that ELO rankings, a system originally designed to rank competitive chess masters, tend to be a more reliable guide than FIFA rankings in the men’s game. The fact that the greatest discrepancies seem to occur in the rankings of African and Central American teams probably reflects both a lack of data (due to fewer games–but perhaps also that these are places where European eyes are least frequently turned. Zambia is the 13th best CAF team according to FIFA, but the 6th best according to ELO. I have not seen Zambia play, but I am looking forward to doing so this coming week.