2017 is the year with the upcoming European Championships as the international women’s football event number one. And the kick off is only weeks away. So the European teams are heavily focused on preparing for this event. While the others use the opportunity to test against the European teams who are now playing with quite a lot of interest and purpose.
Sweden – USA 0:1
Successful revenge for team USA.
Who still had revenge in mind for the defeat in Rio. And they still bemoan a subpar match statistic against Sweden since ex-USA coach Pia Sundhage has taken over the Swedish team. At least regarding the result it was successful for the US.
However, the proceedings on the pitch didnt look like a lot has improved in the meantime for the US-team. In Rio, they seemed the better team by some margin who only couldnt find a way to get through the Swedish brick wall to score and finally got unlucky in the penalty shoot out.
This time it looked the other way round. The US got back the good luck on their side because Sweden didnt score – but the US didnt look like the better team any more. They certainly didnt play cowardly – to use the famous phrase of Hope after the Rio-match – but Sweden got about a 10:2 advantage in corner kicks or so for example. And though the relation of clear cut chances wasnt quite as much in favour of Sweden they mostly had the upper hand in midfield. With only this time the other way round: the USA instead of Sweden defending well and preventing the opposite offense from creating too much in and around the box.
Or should we better say: only around the box. But as some national coaches tend to do Pia Sundhage heavily sticks to her “old guard”. Which always leaves room for speculations whether your analytics dont give you a clear picture of what is going on on the pitch and what would be the best way to play. (Hopefully the analytics team has recognised the faults the defender and the goalie made for the only goal of the day and are able to tell them how to do better next time).
We kind of have to say hats off to Lotta Schelin for working thus hard to still be able to play at her current level. She also had to improve a lot for that over the last few years to keep pace with the development of international football. But there are some talented players in the Swedish squad. Even if a Swedish coach – Sundhage is supposed to resign after the Euros – still has to figure out whom to use and where.
The position in the opposite box is the one you are the player facing the toughest opposition of all. And Lottas trade mark runs through the opposite defenses of the old days have gotten a limited feature and very difficult to achieve these days.
Limited was also how the USA looked team-wise. And also individually. The traveling does cost you energy. However – most players look pretty similarly not on 100% at the moment when playing in the NWSL. Interestingly – very interestingly! – the players looked even pretty much according to their actual levels in the NWSL. Apart from that we assume most viewers didnt realise the difference to Crystal Dunn. Who only made a short trip from England. And Rose Lavelle looked also significantly less traveled not only when she scored than most of the others.
Add a stable development towards more and more disconnected offensive play in the team. And you get a performance that looked like fighting to stay inside the FIFA top 10 rather than the World Champions.
Netherlands – Japan 0:1
The Netherlands are another team that is very often producing interesting matches with a wide variety of preformance levels because they are in such a special way unbalanced. Not only the back four always have their special problem areas individually. It is even more the different style of the top four.
Lieke Martens had not had her best year in 2016 after her concussion early in spring but came back to her old form in 2017. However she still is predominantly the lonely runner with the ball at her feet who needs to find her 1-vs-1 situations to shine. Shanice van de Sanden is the sprinter and needs the empty space behind the defense to run into after a long through ball to have the best chance to shine. So it is not easy to find a way that Martens and van de Sanden both find their strengths useful against the same opponent. And Danielle van de Donk is positioned in the center behind the front line so she has the task to be the one to connect with all the other three and get the others connected. Sometimes we have seen her produce top results – sometimes it is too big a task. In this case Viviane Miedema would need to help connect the offense by dropping further back. But getting all this balanced properly isnt working very often.
And then there is Jackie Groenen. Who might be also very decisive because she plays in the crucial center and with her this once weak area has turned another strong position of the team now. At least in the meantime the new coach obviously has learned to make her the most regular starter there. If she can hold off the midfield of the opponent in front of the Dutch center backs the Netherlands are at least with chances. If she gets enough support there and can additionally help support the offense the Netherlands will be with better chances.
For Japan on the other side it was perfectly understandable they focused on defense after that had been an achilles heel of their performance in the Algarve Cup. And it provided a perfect opportunity for the Netherlands. But did they realise? They could have checked out a lot regarding their offense in this friendly prior to the EC where a 2:5 would have been a wonderful result for example. Risking more up front and looking to learn how to get through a tight defense. Exactly the situation they will face sooner or later in a few weeks again in the EC.
And at the same time they could have used this match even better to learn and understand where the risks are in the defense if you open up there a little more and where you have still weak points to improve on.
Chance missed. Instead it was a 0:1 with only very minor new informations and findings at all. We had that with the Swedes already. Analysing is an area with huge potential to develop.
Switzerland – England 0:4
A game that was interesting because it was so poor. So poor was Switzerland. Probably the excuse for those who want to create one was that Dickenmann and Bachmann have been missing. And that is certainly a big disadvantage. However you can also look for the real reasons they have been so poor. And you have to feel sorry for England too.
Switzerland has done a lot of things right in the past up until 2015 when they reached a major tournament participation for the first time. And that alone was something you would wish most of the other countries would achieve.
But unfortunately it seems that was it. Their performance in the WC in Canada has been poor. Then they also had no chance in the European qualification tournament for the Olympics. And this year they already lost heavily against Spain. And here we havent counted all the near goals and woodwork shots from England. Eight goals against would have been still a lucky result for Switzerland.
That is something that shouldnt happen even once. If it does it shows something is massively going wrong. If it happens twice you should ask if the analytics of the first disaster havent got it right and if they understand what is going wrong.
You have to be close to the team to understand the internal social structure of a football team. But it looks as if they are a team who could need a leader on the pitch who is able to push the team and inject resilience if things arent going the right way. Unfortunately the player who is supposed to be the best when the “mann”s are missing was a main source of the poor play: Lia Wälti looked not very interested and looking forward to the next vacation. A difficult situation.
And thus you cant say too much about the English performance either. They might be tricked to think their level of play was the reason behind it. The old question: One side so good or the other so bad. It was the latter this time. They pressed Switzerland well enough to exploit their weakness. But we already knew that is something England does well. But they missed to figure out what might happen if they tried even harder than usual and mainly to score as clinical as Spain did and get the result close to double figures.
At least a positive aspect was to see the return of Meriame Terchoun after her ACL injury. Not only is it always a good feeling to see long term injured players come back. She also was the only kind of threat for the English defense and one of the very few Swiss players who didnt look uninspired. And that is always a very big exclamation for a good coach to learn from these matches who the players are she can rely on even in difficult situations and thus build the team around.
Norway – USA 0:1
There is a new reality being accepted around team USA it seems. Which is probably even more interesting than how they are playing. The acceptance of the fact how fast they are declining. At least some are still noticing their opponent talked of the World Champions as one of the best three teams in the world instead of the number one team like not long ago. But probably the Norwegian coach could have got even that wrong if he was speaking about this particular team USA.
Like in Sweden they didnt look the better team. Quite the contrary. And some thought they got lucky to again win 1:0. I dont think so. They got unlucky. Because that result still allows them to shut their eyes regarding the analyse and the poor performance. So the overdue rethink of the offensive approach is still not made.
Norway had certainly half their players not quite as fit as the USA and are not a team with exceptional technical abilities. But they looked just more aware of the situations and better in knowing what to do and where to go position-wise and where to play the ball. When you saw the pictures from the bench at half time you first thought it was the US bench where they heavily calculated on their boards if they had pitched all eleven or had missed a player or whether Norway had pitched 12 instead of the allowed 11. It somehow looked at least most of the time as if Norway was one up.
The players who are playing at big money clubs are a good back bone for Norway (Ada Hegerberg, Caro Hansen, Maren Mjelde, Nora Berge). And Andrine Hegerberg did some nice moves to send the US players quite noticeably the wrong way at times. And we have never seen Thorsnes play as well as in the first half. Hopefully we will see more of that. (Still a pity Mykelland never played a big role in the Norwegian national team). But there are still doubts because of the level of some others is quite some margin lower.
Netherlands – Austria 3:0
Again a heavy defeat for Austria. After the 0:3 in England last time around. (They conceded 4 in Germany also in 2016) And another wonderful example. But first we have to say congrats for achieving to participate at the Euros. That is also quite an achievement for a smaller country where the mens side does not achieve that too regularly.
But like Switzerland – maybe on a little bit lower level – that was that it seems. No progress from there on. No good use of that as a platform to proceed. But the interesting thing: Playing around with all sorts of hip-to-date tactical team organisations and alterations. Like trying out every recipe of the cookbook. That often ends up with having lost the stable fundament in the meantime. No fall back if things do start to go wrong. No additional fine tuning to improve. No additional steps how to use the right players at the right place especially if problems are coming up. Virginia Kirchberger found herself with a rather used day from the first (own) goal on. But that can happen. What should not happen is that the rest of the team often helped the Netherlands to exploit that instead of the own team to cover it up.
Probably Austria hasnt got the same level like the Netherlands in individual class. But that is mainly because of the forwards. At least the back line including the goalie might have been individual advantage Austria. And thus no need to be outplayed. Though it was the same story as we see so often. Two early goals kind of distort the further proceedings. It gives the leading side quite an advantage in self confidence. But often do we see the trailing side upping their game and set up a fight back. That looked rather tame and most of the time it looked more like the Netherlands would be increasing their advantage though the Austrians had their chances – and some very good ones – too. But that again was just not enough. They should have enough decent players to set up a proper fight and a team that is not at all easy to beat if they get their defense half way organised properly. It seems difficult to analyse why they cant do it and instead prefer to do the triple Axel with quadrupel twist and Tsukahara salto while still on downhill skis.
The Netherlands enjoyed their nice free spaces in the Austrian half and found a lot of freedom to run into and play into what they had missed so badly a few days ago against Japan. Bringing in an additional offensive player (Jill Roord for Sherida Spitse) probably helped though the forwards was given thus many space from the Austrian defense the midfield of the Netherlands wasnt the main place to run the show.