Olympics Day -2: Women’s Football Gets Competition Underway

*Results will be at the end of each blog post. During the group stages of football and similar sports each post will be a summary of the day. Further into the competition, when there are less events and less clashes, each match will get its own post.*

Despite the Olympic opening ceremony being a couple of days away the action is already underway for some sports including the Women’s Football. And, as happens every Olympics, I forgot that this was going to happen until half way through the day.
If you are a regular reader of my blog you probably know I have an interest in Women’s Football and spent quite a long time covering football in a journalistic sense. Therefore mixed amongst the food, lifestyle and beauty posts you are going to see various Olympic and Paralympic posts dotted throughout.

The competition was opened by Group E’s Sweden and South Africa. The second game of the day was the other two teams in the group battling it out; Brazil and China. Group F also got underway with Canada playing Australia at the same time as the second Group E game with Zimbabwe against Germany being one of the evening games of the day. Then even later Group G started with the USA playing New Zealand and then France v Colombia ending the days footballing action.

Can we just take a moment to discuss how the groups are E, F and G but there is no A, B, C or D (there is in Men’s football but surely people are not that easily confused)? There have been stranger decisions made in the footballing and Olympic worlds but this is the first real one of the games that I have encountered regards the actual sports.

The start of the Brazil – China game is where I start my coverage of the Women’s Football at the 2016 Rio Olympics off. Sadly I am not a multi-screening expert so only watched one game at once.

Brazil v China

China came at the game with a high impact and high intensity approach and it was clear that they were going to tire later on in the match. They were spending large amounts of the game chasing after the ball and struggling even more to keep hold of it against a much higher ranked and experienced Brazil team. But they are also a generally young team that is expected to develop and become a much more competitive force in the next cycle of competitions.

Brazil had a lot of chances in the first half of the match, especially from set pieces, but the ball just would not go into the net. The set pieces seemed poorly thought out and perhaps not even practiced as the same thing just kept happening time after time allowing for the Chinese team to have a little added advantage against what should otherwise be a very good attacking team.

But eventually after 35 minutes and what can only be described as terrible goalkeeping and defending the Brazil team were rewarded and up a goal thanks to a header from Monica (plays for Orlando Pride).

After the goal the Chinese seemed to fade slightly and looked a touch defeated. The midfield almost vanished completely, despite being previously swamped by the Brazil team, but did not make their presence known elsewhere on the field.

Immediately afterwards Brazil nearly made it 2-0 but sadly the offside flag was risen so the chip over the head of the Chinese goalkeeper did not count despite it hitting the back of the net. A few more chances were made in the last few minutes of the first half, as they were able to beat the Chinese offside trap, but the Chinese goalkeeper had not given up and carried on throwing herself around the box.

There was nearly a crisis for the Brazil team though as a headed backpass from one of the defenders, as she felt some of the only pressure of the half from China, went unexpectedly towards the goal but thankfully for the unaware goalkeeper it went a little wide to just go for a (rather wasted) corner.

As the second half got underway it became clear that Brazil had discussed at halftime about new ways to attack. The first corner seen them take a completely different approach by kicking it along the ground up the pitch before sending it into the box helping to get it to a different point and challenge the Chinese defense a little more. But the Chinese also started lively and acted swiftly to get a corner of their own but it was again completely wasted and allowed for a counter-attack against them.

As the fairly aging Brazil team, in women’s international football terms, went further into the second half the more visably tired they became as wingers found themselves tracking back more and more to cover up in defense. The Chinese team not only started to look more pacey against them but they actually picked up their pace and co-ordination a lot compared to the first half.

But as the Brazil team had tired legs kicking in they brought on a 21 year old midfielder. And suddenly that fresh feel resulted in Andressa Alves getting the ball into the back of the net to double the lead. With the second goal sending the netting bulging the Chinese seemed deflated and their whole game play became increasingly scrappy and disorganised but after nearly ten minutes of bewilderment and struggling they managed to get themselves back together and composed.

And in the dying minutes of the game, when it seemed everything was easing down, Cristiane was able to get her 13th Olympic goal, from a set piece, after being denied by the offside flag twice and the goalies gloves numerous times too to make it 3-0 to the host nation.

Overall, China never really seemed to get it together or have the organisation and passion between them to stop leaking goals or go on to score enough to win the match. The entire team, from having to do a lot of defending and not having that much possession throughout the majority of the match, were looking exhausted with 15 minutes to go suggesting that they need to get their fitness in order and prepare bodies more for the Brazil weather ahead of the following games.

The Brazil team will be using this game to get their campaign underway and hoping that they can help to make history by becoming the first Brazil team (male or female) to get a gold medal at the Olympic games for football despite the countries incredible history in the sport. No doubt the Brazil team will also feel that having a psychologist on board to help them deal with opening game nerves, in their own country, was a worthwhile move. Whilst China, who qualified higher for the Olympics than World Cup runners up and previous silver medallists Japan, will be looking to take positives from the game and to improve in their next match at the weekend.

Zimbabwe – Germany

This is such an amazing game for Zimbabwe. In 2012 the country had less than 10 athletes but in 2016 the Women’s Zimbabwe team made up just less than half of the countries representatives. They are a team being coached by a professional teacher that took the job up only in September of 2015.

But with Germany seeking Olympic women’s football gold for the first time, despite them appreciating the significance of the match for the FIFA 93rd ranked Zimbabwe team, they would not be going easy or using it as a training match it was going to be a difficult game for them.

Germany had a fairly early chance to get ahead but ended up hitting the post and sending it behind for a goal kick. The early luck of the game clearly seemed to be on Zimbabwe’s side and with the help of the crowd cheers everytime they touched and cleared the ball seemed to help motivate them. But Zimbabwe kept slipping around and seemed to have selected the wrong studs for the evening Brazil weather making it that extra bit difficult for them.

Despite having a few chances in the first 20 minutes of the match Germany had not made as much of an impact as many might have expected them to and they actually had to defend against a few moments at the wrong end of the pitch. But after 22nd minutes Germany ended up scoring from their first corner of the match, which given they average several inches taller comes as little surprise, and from there they seemed to have a lot more momentum and space for a few minutes of the game.

The Zimbabwe team continued to give it their all and despite the issue of stud choice for a lot of them they continued to run around the pitch and track the Germans and the ball down. But in the end they just could not do enough to stop Popp, the German taller than every Zimbabwean apart from the goalkeeper, from making it 2-0 from a header in live play ten minutes before half time.

There were moments when Germany should have scored several more times either due to their skill or the poor defending of Zimbabwe but in the end but the post continued to be their enemy and by half time they could do no more than score twice. But given that Germany had to make an early substitution and Popp leaving the pitch with a few minutes to go because of a ball at heavy impact to the chest player preservation would be on there mind during the team talk. Going into half time Zimbabwe could take away several positives and certainly discuss methods of defense and attack for the second half.

As the second half got underway Germany continued to dominate possession and force the Zimbabwe team to have ten players in their own half for large portions of the match. But Zimbabwe were looking to make more of an impact in the second half by making an attacking substitution before Germany got the game back underway.

And suddenly Germany have a moment of poor goalkeeping and Zimbabwe have a goal thanks to Basopo. The Zimbabwe goalkeeper runs up to the other end of the pitch to celebrate and it seems like it could actually be possible for them to get a point out of the match.

Unsurprisingly though Germany used them conceding a goal to channel their energy into improving and driving forward more effectively. Within minutes of the ball hitting the back of the German net they had managed to make it 3-1 and the uphill struggle for the Zimbabwe team was well and truly back on.

For a fair while, whilst the game still had a fairly decent tempo and efforts towards goal continued to be made, there was a lack of excitement of anything new happening for a fair while. At the 65th minute this was clearly evident to the German benches as they made another change to liven up the game and bring new skills to the pitch.

There was a moment when Zimbabwe nearly made it 3-2 but after working around several defenders the ball just found its way to the gloves of the German keeper. It gave the German team a chance to counter-attack and as that happened they were awarded a penalty (wrongly as the Zimbabwe player clearly got the ball and did nothing wrong). The penalty was saved but the taker managed to aim the rebound through the keepers legs. Rightly the Zimbabwe team looked a little hard done by as the goal, from a poor refereeing decision, made it 4-1 to Germany. And before you knew it the heart broken Zimbabwe team were 5-1 down. Then an own goal  from a Zimbabwean head made it an extra painful to watch 6-1.

And as the game seemed to go on the better the Zimbabwe team seemed to get at defending. They even managed to head the ball away from one corner which is something you would not expect given their height compared to the Germans and perhaps a lack of experience against such a high quality team. They certainly developed during the game and show masses of potential to work as a team and find ways to get around weaknesses. There is room for improvement for Germany too and if they want to progress throughout the competition they are going to need to iron out a few niggles the team still seem to have.

United States v New Zealand

Due to watching the Zimbabwe v Germany game I only caught the second half of this match but I thought it still important to give my thoughts on the initial game of the competition for both sides. I joined at half time with the United States leading one goal to nil.

As the second half got underway it was obvious that the start would be key is New Zealand had any chance of hanging on or getting back into the game but within a minute and a half of the half getting started the US had doubled there goal count making it 2-0 due to some sloppy and slow defending.

But with the US having experienced and skilled players like Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo on the pitch it was always going to be a little tricky for the lower ranked new Zealanders. The New Zealand team did have a few chances and a little more discipline in the early and mid part of the second half could have seen them beating the offside trap rather than being caught by it.

Slowly though the New Zealand team seemed to tire and become slightly irritated at the situation unfolding in front of them. Players started to rack up yellow cards and throw themselves into challenges putting themselves at risk both of which is not good in a competition with card restrictions and limited player availability. There was nothing more they could do than make rash attempts to stop the US from scoring any more goals but they managed to do that despite being unable to get the ball up to the top two strikers for most of the game.

France v Colombia 

The French went into this game as favourites to win the match and to get through the group stages with having the likes of Renard and Le Sommer in the squad, with the US, when all the matches have been played.

And for Colombia their task was made all the tougher when just over a minute into the match one of the defenders caused a rather unlucky own goal to give France the lead 1-0. The defense remained united though and worked together to try and hold off the French and specifically French set pieces.

But it was always going to be a case that Colombia would struggle to hold off the French when they went on the attack. As a high ball curved down towards goal and it was batted away by the keeper it ended up falling in a way to allow Le Sommer to do a diving header and send the ball past the keeper and into the net to make it 2-0.

Colombia nearly had a chance as the ball got crossed in to the far post but the player waiting to receive it just could not get their head to the ball. It did however come off a French head and give them a corner which swiftly resulted in them having a free kick in a dangerous position. But in the end it all came to nothing and the score remained 2-0.

Within 30 minutes the French had aimed at goal 12 times with eight of those being on target compared to Colombia’s two shots with one on target. There had been moments where it seemed like a real passionate and fiery game was on the cards for the rest of the match but it never quite made it to the boil and the mid-point of the first half seen some scrappiness from both sides. The scrappiness was clear when the French had a chance on goal and the keeper was sent flying out but several Colombian defenders went into a panic and made a risky clearance instead of just sending it out for a corner.

The two French centre-backs were able to bring themselves practically up to the half way line for large amounts of the game with the Colombians being forced to spend most of their time inside their own half. The further into the first half the match crawled the more spread out and displaced the Colombian players and formation seemed to become as it became a free for all to get the ball and try to do something with it.

In the end the Colombians had to take down the French on the edge of the box, narrowly avoiding giving away a penalty, but the free kick was turned into a shot and the dipping ball went into the top corner of the net as the keepers fingertips were not enough to push it over the bar. Meaning just before half time France had got their lead up to 3-0 to put them top of Group G as things stood on goal difference.

As the second half got underway the referee, from North Korea, felt she had given players on both sides enough chances and decided to dish out the first yellow card of the match to signal that the time for warnings was over. Despite the warnings players on both sides continued to slide in and barge each other around to make it clear it was going to be an aggressive match.

Colombia restarted the game well and had a couple of moments that could have resulted in something but they continued to lack organisation and communication and balls kept coming too late as players headed off too early resulting in offside flags being raised and players ending up well marked or unable to keep control of the ball.

Being three goals up going into half time it became apparent 15 minutes into the second half that the French were more interested in keeping a clean sheet and saving energy for future matches than they were about banging in plenty more goals. Even when the Colombians had a free kick that was within distance of shooting at goal they remained calm and composed and focussed on getting the ball away properly and effectively rather than panicking.

And with the French attitude I was starting to think that everybody might as well pack up there bags and go home early. Sure things happened in the second half but nothing of real impact on the memory but then all of a sudden France ended up with another free kick and converted it to their fourth goal of the match to help give them a goal advantage that could prove essential if they want to top the group over the US.

The French will certainly be a threat throughout the competition but their group game against the USA will be a good guide as to which of the two is likely to progress slightly further overall as one of them is likely to be able to reach the final here in the Rio 2016 Olympics. 

The Colombians will be looking to get as far as possible in the competition but apart from the expectations from those back home they have less pressure on them, as a fairly new nation to Women’s football, and should be applauded for their effort and dedication despite how the competition might treat them. But they will be no doubt disappointed to have conceded so many goals as a bad goal difference could be the thing to stop them from getting a best third place spot to progress out of the group stages.

Overall summary 

  • China are going to need to rethink and sort themselves out if they want any chance of getting through the group stages. They lacked skill, organisation or passion throughout a lot of match.
  • They have made a big deal about head bumps and knocks. Players are being forced off the pitch to be double checked that they are okay to continue.
  • Somebody thought it was a good idea to call the three Women’s Football groups E, F and G to stop confusion with the Men’s groups.
  • Why do most of the ball boys seem to be grey haired and slightly round men not able to catch balls very quickly or throw them out very well?
  • They seem to play the crowd a compilation of rainforest sounds, from rain to birds and more, during the half-time break.
  • Due to matches having overlapping times and not all being available to.watch on platforms I have access to my views and coverage are not as extensive as I would like them to be. As the competition progresses hopefully this will improve.
  • The New Zealand goalkeeper kit is bright pink and a little better than the Ivory Coast pink goalkeeper kit of the 2015 World Cup.
  • The commentators were competent but whenever there was a lul kept repeating the same facts in a way that suggestef poor research and preparation. Though they called the French player Le Sommer.. La Summer instead. Sigh.
  • The French kit is far uglier than their normal international kit.

Sweden – South Africa (Group E): 1-0

Brazil – China (Group E): – 3-0

Canada – Australia (Group F): – 2-0

Zimbabwe – Germany (Group F): 1-5

United States – New Zealand (Group G): 2-0

France – Colombia (Group G): 4-0

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