How U.S changed female World Cup and lost out
USA women eliminated via penalty shootout at the 2023 World Cup

By Ijoma Uche

The Australian-New Zealand 2023 edition of the female mondial that ended on Sunday August 20 after three weeks of the most breathtaking football by women is probably the best so fat staged by FIFA. Unlike the previous women’s World Cups, this edition, for the first time, presented 32 teams with the usual favourites and underdogs. But after the group games, there were few underdogs and even fewer favourites. The surprises were many.

Every team that participated, especially from Africa, where the whipping dogs usually predominated, gave a good account of themselves, all winning natches. Imagine South Africa coming second in a group that had Italy and Argentina, while Maroc qualified in a group that had Germany and South Korea. Nigeria qualified at the expense of Canada, Olympics women champion.

This says something about the closing of footballing gaps between “big and small” countries. Women football seems to be capturing up faster than men’s, where a few countries have held the game hostage with few flashes of challenge from pretenders, such as Cameroon in 1990, Nigeria in 1994, Ghana 2010 etc, which soon fizzled out.

Of the four semi-finalists, Sweden, which was the bronze winner, and twice bronze winners in the past championships, appeared the most technically superior to others but was undone by the older age of the team, which made them to play more cautiously and only counter attacking, except in the loser’s game, where they were really very aggressive and denied Australia playing space. But as it’s pp always in football, they were knocked out by the eventual winner, Spain

Arguably, the U.S team had a major role to play in this apparently positive revolution in the evolving trend in female football. The U.S team has not only dominated the female game by winning it three times and two consecutively or back to back, but was also the defending champion, and considered the team to beat. But they were eliminated by Sweden, which showed that they had lost their footballing edge that enabled them to prevail over the rest of the world. What was that edge?

Three coaches of different teams provided the answer even before, and during the competition. All three insisted that the U.S. team dominated the game by using sheer strength, stamina, and physicality to overrun most of their opponents, who concentrated more on tactics, technicality, and strategy, which frequently crumbled against constant assault. However, most teams came paying diligent attention to this aspect of coaching, and, thus, narrowed tremendously the winning advantage.

As evident in our own team, they were strong, physical and durable, going through 90 and, even 120 minutes without breaking much sweat, unlike in previous competitions. Also, this edition, had more extra time play, about six, than any other in the past, which pointed to the ability of teams to sustain a high intensity of play through 90 minutes and beyond. None of the four African teams, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Morocco was intimidated by their opponents, unlike in the past.

In fact Nigeria was almost on the verge of a historic outing against England in the second round, but floundered on the basis of its paucity of tactics and strategy. There were fewer overwhelming victories and defeats, as most teams stood toe to toe with their opponents, and victory or defeat depended more on the teams that made less punishable mistakes than being outplayed and overwhelmed.

For instance, against Sweden, perhaps, the U.S. looked largely ordinary and out of sorts, because their strength and physicality were basically equally matched and neutralized.

So, with all the teams physically balanced, the game returned to tactics, finesse and strategy, which was not the strength of the U.S. team, but the trade mark of Europe, and South America, hence there were three Europeans of the four semi finalists.

In contemporary football, Spain typifies these qualities of the game – total football invented by Johann Cruyff of Holland – in Europe, while Brazil and Argentina are the masters in South America, both of whom crumbled in the face of physicality and strength. Spain was a worthy winners against England, who are European champions, and good enough for the trophy if they had taken their chances, but on the whole, they showed less class and creativity.

What are the lessons for Nigeria in particular, and Africa generally? A whole lot! On the basis of their physical strength, the four African representatives deserved better; they truly held the own, unlike in the past, when the only filled up spaces. South Africa was mobile and played well; Nigeria defended stoutly and cohesively; Morocco was technical but inexperienced, and Zambia was fast but naive. However, one thing was common to them all, and became their undoing: lack of technical depth and tactical discipline.

Football has gone beyond the old aspect of just playing the ball, defending and scoring goals. While this, essentially, is the ultimate objective of the game, however, the process or how this is done and executed could make a whole world of difference, and differentiates winners and losers.
Strength is good, but not enough to to take any team to the top, as U.S had previously done. England was as good as they come, and possessed a destructively potent forward line that took them to the trophy in Europe last year, but struggled against Nigeria, who could have easily ended their run, and were outshined by Spain’s mastery and brilliance.

Football becomes drab, brawn and brawl without the sophisticated inputs of deftness in control, artistic in passes, strategic in movement and positioning, and dexterous in scoring goals. These are the ingredients that beautify the game, which took Spain to the crown. The days of U.S. dominance are gone.


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