England’s golden generation, USA beaten and underdogs – World Cup talking points

By Sports Desk August 19, 2023

The ninth edition of the Women’s World Cup is almost over with only the final left to play.

A new winner will be crowned when England and Spain do battle in Sydney on Sunday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at what we learned from this tournament.

USA dominance over

USA have been the leading force in women’s football for the past few decades, winning the previous two World Cups and claiming three gold medals at the Olympics, but they suffered a shock defeat to Sweden in the last 16 in Melbourne.

A number of other nations made early exits, including Olympic champions Canada going out in the group stage along with Euros runners-up Germany, but it was USA’s penalty shoot-out loss which caused the most astonishment.

With Megan Rapinoe retiring and other stalwarts Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara and Alyssa Naeher unlikely to play at another World Cup, it finally feels safe to say USA’s glittering era is over despite the excitement around Sophia Smith.

Year of the underdog!

 

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Along with USA leaving the tournament early on, a number of emerging nations made their mark in Australia and New Zealand with South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Jamacia all making the knock-out stages.

Morocco qualified through Group H at the expense of Germany, who had thumped the African outfit 6-0 at the start of the World Cup. The Moroccan players were crowded around a phone watching the final seconds of Germany’s draw with South Korea before erupting in celebration.

Their journey only lasted until the last-16 stage and it was the same for South Africa and Nigeria but never before had three African countries all made the knock-out phase. Meanwhile, Jamaica were able to send Brazil packing in the group stage. It helped to highlight the growing depth in the women’s international game.

England’s golden generation

England were close to exiting this World Cup against Nigeria after Lauren James’ red card, but Mary Earps and heroic defending was followed by shoot-out success to send them through to the quarter-finals.

The European Championship winners would have always hoped to go deep in this tournament, but a tricky draw on paper and injuries to Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and Leah Williamson alongside the retirement of several key players last summer could easily have resulted in a poor showing.

In serial winner Sarina Wiegman and a group of players with incredible resolve and belief, England have managed to break new ground to reach a first World Cup final and given so many of this squad are in their twenties, it feels whatever happens on Sunday the Lionesses are ready to be the country to beat over the coming years.

Glass ceiling smashed!

Records have tumbled during this tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The bigger than usual format of 32 teams has resulted in more games and while plenty of drama has followed, the quality of football on show has helped to ensure ticket sales and TV viewing figures continue to go through the roof.

A whopping attendance of 75,784 has been recorded three times at Sydney’s Stadium Australia and according to FIFA, the average crowd across the 10 venues has been 28,900. A big increase from the previous edition in France or any other World Cup, but the world has also tuned in.

Despite matches usually being played outside of prime-time slots, Fox still had 2.52 million viewers watch USA’s last-16 defeat on penalties to Sweden, which kicked off at 5am in the Eastern time zone of the United States. BBC One had 7.3 million viewers watch England’s semi-final win over Australia and millions also turned on the TVs in Brazil, Colombia and China for matches containing their respective countries.

Room for improvement

 

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There is still plenty of work to achieve in the women’s game though, with the build-up to this World Cup dogged by controversy and several countries playing amid the backdrop of internal tension, which should not be the case when players get the chance to perform on the biggest of stages.

FIFA faced criticism for its ‘Unite’ armbands, which were similar to the OneLove armband banned, but did not promote LGBTQ+ communities. The governing body also found itself in a storm for almost allowing Saudi Arabia to sponsor the tournament and president Gianni Infantino’s peripheral role at this World Cup compared to the men’s edition in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Spain’s presence in the final will conjure mixed emotions after several of their own players threatened to quit international football if head coach Jorge Vilda did not leave his position, citing the impact his regime had on their “emotional state” but he remained. Hati and Zambia’s participation in this World Cup occurred amidst sexual misconduct allegations against staff to highlight the hurdles still facing elite women footballers.

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    The Vincentian left-arm quick took 3-14 from three overs in the last group stage game against Afghanistan at the same venue after coming into the team for Romario Shepherd who left the squad to attend the birth of his second child.

    Historically, McCoy’s eight wickets in three games at the venue is the third most among active cricketers with only Pakistan Saeed Ajmal with 11 wickets in five games and Hayden Walsh Jr with 12 wickets in five games ahead of him.

    Despite these statistics, McCoy was left out of the team that suffered a brutal eight-wicket loss on Thursday.

    Shepherd, who came back into the side in place of McCoy, conceded 41 runs in two overs.

    His last over was belted for 30 runs by Phil Salt who finished 87*.

    West Indies Captain Rovman Powell defended the call to leave McCoy out of the side.

    “I think when you're selecting a team and you have players that are playing good you will always have to make the tough decision. We sat down as a selection group and thought that the team that played today is our better team to face England and it just didn't work out tonight,” Powell said in a post-match press conference.

    The hosts will next take on joint hosts the USA in Barbados on Friday before facing South Africa in their final Super 8 game in Antigua on Sunday.

    Despite Wednesday’s loss, the West Indies still have their fate in their own hands as wins in those two games will see them having a good chance of making it to the last four.

    “I think our destiny is still in our own hands. It's just for us to continue to play good cricket. And once we do that, we think we'll be ok,” Powell said.

     

     

  • Rangnick expects 'exceptional' Lewandowski to start for Poland Rangnick expects 'exceptional' Lewandowski to start for Poland

    Ralf Rangnick insisted Austria will not change their tactics for Robert Lewandowski having missed Poland's opening Euro 2024 fixture against the Netherlands. 

    The Barcelona striker, who is his nation's all-time top scorer with 82 goals, did not feature in their 2-1 defeat in Hamburg having picked up a thigh injury in a pre-tournament friendly against Turkiye. 

    Despite his absence, both Rangnick and captain Marcel Sabitzer are preparing for the game with the assumption he will be on the pitch for Michal Probierz's side on Friday.

    "It doesn't change our way of playing a lot, basically they will play the way they have been played. Lewandowski is the (main) player in Poland, everyone tries to pass to him, especially if they counter at speed," Rangnick told reporters.

    "In Munich, I had the joy of playing together with him for one year, therefore I know his qualities," Sabitzer added on facing his former team-mate.

    "I know he's an exceptional player but for us as a team, when it comes to tactics, nothing will change."

    Austria, meanwhile, started their Group D campaign with a narrow defeat to tournament favourites France, and know a victory is a must to keep their hopes of advancing to the knockout stages alive. 

    "The team that wins tomorrow holds the good cards and has a good chance of going through to the next phase, so therefore it's a game you have to win, that's absolutely clear to us," Rangnick said.

    Sabitzer said his side was ready for the pressure that comes with a must-win game, saying: "We already said to each other that we want to win the match tomorrow, and Poland the same to each other internally.

    "I think if we change those things (from the France game) if we follow our principles and are intense, and if we bring all that on the pitch, then we have a good chance of winning tomorrow."

  • Saka insists there is more to come from England ahead of Denmark clash Saka insists there is more to come from England ahead of Denmark clash

    Bukayo Saka has said there is another level to come from England ahead of their Group C fixture against Denmark in Frankfurt. 

    The Three Lions started their Euro 2024 campaign with a 1-0 win over Serbia last Sunday, courtesy of Jude Bellingham's fourth international goal. 

    But England supporters were left wanting more from their side at full-time, with Serbia controlling the game after the break and possibly unfortunate to not steal a point. 

    Saka, who is featuring in his third major tournament for his country, played a huge role in Bellingham's opener, crossing the ball onto the head of the Real Madrid star.

    Alongside Phil Foden, Harry Kane and Bellingham, the Arsenal attacker is part of an exciting plethora of attacking options for Gareth Southgate at the tournament, but he believes there is room for improvement ahead of their game with Denmark. 

    "Yeah, a bit you could say that," Saka said if England's attacking display against Serbia was fluid. "You could say that for the goal, but I think there is a new level to come from us."

    The 22-year-old was part of the England side who reached the final at Euro 2020 and started the game against Denmark in the semi-finals, which the Three Lions won 2-1 after extra-time at Wembley. 

    "Denmark are a good team and provide a good challenge," Saka said. "We played them at the last Euros, and it went to extra-time, but we won in the end. 

    "That was a very special night, a very special night."

    England arrived in Germany as one of the favourites to win the competition after their displays at their last three major tournaments. 

    Saka has become a mainstay under Southgate's tenure at the helm, and he believes the current squad looking to end England's 58-year wait for an international trophy is the best it has been. 

    "I would like to say so. The experience also makes us better. A lot of us were there at that tournament and the World Cup as well. 

    "We learned things from playing together which makes us better, so I would say so."

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