By Aldwyn McGill
USA won the FIFA Women’s World Cup after defeating Netherlands 2-0 at Lyon Stadium in France. The victory witnessed by a crowd of 57,000 also strengthened the US women’s position on pay equity with the US Soccer Association.
The final was part of Sunday’s soccer treat that showcased three championship finals and Round of 16 games of the African Cup of Nations tournament. If it was a scheduling oversight it did not help the US Soccer Association position since the Women’s WC final was a big hit in the US.
The USA – Netherlands final received the highest combined audience on US television over the weekend. The game also lived up to its billing in terms of entertainment; and the rise in the viewership towards the end of the game is a good indicator of the excitement it created.
A scoreless first half was filled with scoring chances and fantastic saves that were punctuated with exceptional defensive plays in spite of USA having the better of the exchanges and the bulk of the scoring chances.
Despite the edge the USA held, the outcome was very much in doubt as Netherlands finished the first half with an offensive flurry supported by goalkeeper San Van Veenendaal, who was as solid as a rock, coming up with big saves when they needed it.
At the half Netherlands supporters were of the belief that their team had handle the best the USA had to offer. They had ended the USA streak of scoring in under 12 minutes in every other game at the tournament while showing some offensive spark towards the end of the half.
There are those who believed that all USA Coach Jill Ellis team had to do was to keep up the pressure and the goals would eventually come. However, that seemed easier said than done when facing a hot goalkeeper who showed she was definitely up to the task after deflecting Alex Morgan half volley.
My take on the game at the half was that if the trend of the hot goalkeeper continued then extra time was a serious possibility. However, VAR cancelled that theory when they awarded a penalty against Netherlands 16 minutes into the second half; USA led 1-0.
The sad thing about VAR awarding this penalty (although the right call was made) is that it may have been the only way USA could have score against a hot goalkeeper. It also changed the run of play as Netherlands began to press forward and gave up a second goal on a counter attack.
USA second goal was scored 9 minutes after the penalty. It created an opening for USA talented midfielder Rose Lavelle to travel up the middle of the field to the edge of the penalty area where she delivered a beautiful left-footed grounder into the near corner for the insurance goal.
USA also enjoyed the 12th man advantage which meant that Dutch players had to make a huge mental adjustment after enjoying home field advantage throughout the tournament and falling behind on the scoreboard in the final.
But the best team won, and it was only fitting that Megan Rapinoe won both the Golden Boot as the tournament’s highest goals scorer; she also was awarded the Golden Ball as the Best Player at the World Cup. Her teammates Alex Morgan won the Silver Boot while Rose Lavelle won the bronze. Netherlands goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal won the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper.
However, last Sunday most football/soccer enthusiasts turned to the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro where host Brazil defeated Peru 3-1 in the Copa America championship final. The action at Copa America showed a vast contrast to the entertainment provided by the women’s world cup.
Not to be outdone VAR played a major role in awarding penalty kicks at the Copa America as well. The difference was that both Brazil and Peru benefited from penalty kicks in Brazil a 3-1 win. In the end it was Manchester City’s striker Jesus who scored what turned out to be the winning goal for Brazil after Peru Captain Paolo Guerrero equalized with a VAR penalty. Everton had gave Brazil a 1-0 lead.
Brazil secured the 3-1 win and their ninth Copa America title after substitute Richarlison scored the third goal from a VAR penalty. Known for its fluid Samba style of play Brazil’s play at the Copa America 2019 showed that they were able to do what it takes to win their first Copa title since 2007.
The night cap to the Sunday soccer treat was the CONCACAF Gold Cup final played at Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago where Mexico defeated USA 1-0. It was the first meeting of the teams in the Gold Cup final since 2011. It was a tale of two halves with a USA strong showing in the first while Mexico won the most important second half.
The recently concluded Gold Cup has revealed that a number of teams have caught up with the front runners in CONCACAF making the upcoming world cup qualifiers and competitions in the region not as predictable as in the past.
It is also important to note that USA seems to have some of the best group of players in quite some time and it will be interesting to see whether the pay dispute between their women’s team and the US Soccer Association will have any adverse effects on the team.