Monthly Archives: June 2015

Women’s World Cup Knockout Rounds Predictions

The first round of the Women’s World Cup finished yesterday, and overall it was an exciting, intriguing start to the tournament. While all six seeded teams won their groups, many of the newcomers showed impressive flashes of play, there were a few upsets and semi-upsets, and there were very few uninteresting (i.e., blowout) matches. None of the six first-place teams looked dominant, and the two who won all three of their matches, Japan and Brazil, had difficulty scoring. This means that the knockout rounds should be wide open.

As far as the predictions in my post from 4 June, I got all six group winners correct and thirteen of the sixteen qualifiers for the second round correct (I missed Cameroon, Colombia, and the Netherlands), though not necessarily the order in which they would finish. Here are my predictions for the knockout rounds.

Round of Sixteen

Cameroon over China. China have not been impressive and needed several key calls to go their way in order to advance. Cameroon have played confidently and have become crowd darlings. If they play the way they did in the second half versus Switzerland they should have no trouble winning this match, and if they do, they will become the first African team to ever win a game in the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup.

U.S. over Colombia. Colombia pulled the upset of the tournament with their defeat of France, so they are a dangerous team. But they were lucky to draw against Mexico and got thoroughly outplayed against England. The U.S. got better in each match in the Group of Death, and should be able to exploit the weaknesses in Colombia’s defense like England did. In my previous predictions I said that the U.S. would win the tournament, and I still feel confident in that prediction, in part because the U.S. have been getting sharper in each match and in part because none of the other favorites were especially impressive.

Germany over Sweden. This is the second round prediction that I feel least confident about. Germany are playing better right now, but they had a much easier group, whereas Sweden nearly got killed in the Group of Death, winning the last third-place qualification spot via goal difference over Thailand. The fact that Sweden are already used to playing difficult matches may work in their favor. If they score first, how will Germany respond? I would not be surprised if this match went to penalties.

France over South Korea. France did a good job of bouncing back in their last match against Mexico after losing to Colombia. South Korea’s defense did enough to get them though a very tricky, evenly-matched group, but won’t be enough against France’s firepower.

Australia over Brazil. The Brazilians have been struggling to score, while Australia were very impressive in the Group of Death (one could argue they deserved a draw against the U.S.) and are playing with confidence. As with Germany-Sweden, the first goal in this match will be especially crucial.

Japan over the Netherlands. Japan have been quietly getting their business taken care of, though they also had some difficulty scoring. The Netherlands squeaked through to the second round with a late goal versus Canada, and have too many defensive weaknesses to pose a real threat to the defending champions.

Norway over England. While the English were impressive in their last group match and it was difficult to get a sense of Norway’s strength because they played in the easiest group, the teams’ previous histories in the tournament weigh heavily in this prediction. England have never won a game in the knockout rounds and have a reputation of not being able to win big matches whereas Norway are former champions. The teams are evenly enough matched that this kind of intangible could make the difference.

Canada over Switzerland. The hosts have been inconsistent, but so have the Swiss. The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but Canada’s experience and home-field advantage will give them the victory.

Quarterfinals

U.S. over Cameroon. This should be relatively easy for the U.S., but do keep in mind the 1990 quarterfinal in the men’s tournament between England and Cameroon (a match that England manager Bobby Robson infamously told his players would be “a bye;” highlights of the match are here) where the Indomitable Lions nearly pulled off the upset.

France over Germany. This is another matchup that could easily go to penalties. I have the Germans losing because they will be exhausted from their victory over the Swedes.

Japan over Australia. These last two predictions in the “easy” side of the bracket are both toss-ups. In this match, I have Japan’s experience being the deciding factor over Australia’s friskier form, but again, penalties loom large.

Norway over Canada. Norway’s pedigree tops Canada’s home-field advantage. At some point, this home-field advantage will morph into an unhealthy feeling of pressure for the Canadians.

Semifinals

U.S. over France. The U.S. will have the large majority of the fan support (including myself!), but it’s worth noting that this match will be played in Montreal, so France might have decent support as well. The winner of this match will win the tournament. France isn’t quite ready to win the big one just yet, but it is fair to go ahead and pencil them in as favorites when they host the tournament in 2019.

Norway over Japan. I don’t think Japan are good enough to get to the final again, and Norway will be playing with nothing to lose.

As I’ve said, the U.S. will win the final. Japan will beat the French for third place.

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Books Acquired Recently

Keri, Jonah. Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. 2014. Toronto: Vintage, 2015.

I enjoy Keri’s writing for ESPN.com, and have been thinking about buying this book since it came out last year. I was always intrigued by the Expos as a kid because of their odd-sounding name (What is an “Expo?” I know the answer now, but it was an inscrutable question when I was six), the fact that they played in Canada, and their unique uniforms (especially their multicolored caps with the clever M-e logo). They were one of the few teams (the Kansas City Royals are another) who actually had decent-looking powder blue road uniforms because the color went with their overall color scheme. They played the Mets often, and were the National League East team that I disliked the least. I saw them play several times at Shea Stadium, and I remember that at one of these games (in 1990, I think, or maybe 1989) the Mets eliminated them from playoff contention. After the game my friend Stefan and I went and waited outside of the player’s entrance hoping to get some autographs, and Andres Galarraga (who seems like a glaring omission from Keri’s delightfully long subtitle) came out wearing an absolutely hideous sweater and an utterly downtrodden look on his face that epitomized “the agony of defeat.”

I decided to finally buy the book in preparation for my upcoming trip to Montreal for the Women’s World Cup semifinal. The match will be played at Olympic Stadium where the Expos used to play, and it will be helpful to know some of the history of the space before I experience it. I purchased the book at my local Barnes & Noble.

Roche, Charlotte. Wetlands. 2008. Trans. Tim Mohr. New York: Grove, 2009.

A friend recently recommended this book to me and I decided to buy it right away because it sounds like it fits right within my interest in transgressive sexual stories. The front cover advertises that there have been “Over One Million Copies Sold Worldwide,” so I am not alone in this interest. Apparently the main character likes to eat her various bodily secretions. This theme leads to some interesting quotations from the various review excerpts reprinted inside the front cover. Here are a few of my favorites:

From the Los Angeles Times: “A slimy swim, but one worth taking.”

From The Guardian: “If you ever wondered what you’d be like if you weren’t shy, polite, tolerant, modest, sexually repressed, logical, and constrained by modern standards of hygiene, this may be the book for you.”

From Time Out New York: “[Reading Wetlands] left us with that not-so-fresh feeling.”

I purchased the book from one of the independent booksellers on amazon.com.

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Books Acquired Recently

Gornick, Vivian. The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir. New York: Farrar, 2015.

I haven’t read Gornick’s work before, but I read a review of this memoir about her walks exploring New York City and ordered it immediately afterward because I have been getting more and more interested in walking as a political and literary act. One notices so much more when walking than when driving a car, or even riding a bike. I must also say that the book itself is very aesthetically pleasing (as books published by FSG tend to be). It and Trible’s book were purchased from amazon.com’s network of independent booksellers.

Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

I read parts of this book in a Feminist Theology course back in college, and it completely changed how I viewed the Bible. I talk some about that experience in an essay that I am currently writing, and decided to buy a copy of the book partly as an exercise in nostalgia and partly to help get the creative juices flowing as I think about telling difficult stories.

Williams, William Carlos. In the American Grain. 1925. New York: New Directions, 1956.

I have read about this collection of essays, but have never actually read it. I came across this lovely “New Directions Paperbook” in excellent condition at Yesteryear Antiques and Collectibles in Syracuse, and it only cost $1.00 so I decided to buy it. I enjoy Williams’s poetry and look forward to encountering him in a new genre.

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Thoughts on the Beginning of the Women’s World Cup

With the first set of group stage matches at the 2015 Women’s World Cup completed, here are some random thoughts on the tournament thus far.

The stadia are not ideal, which means the atmosphere of many of the matches has been lacking. Many of the stadiums being used (e.g., Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver) are Canadian Football League stadiums, which means that there is plenty of room for a proper soccer pitch in them (unlike in some NFL stadiums) because the CFL uses a 110-yard gridiron that is also wider than an American football field. However, this extra room means that there is a lot of space between the pitch and the stands, so the crowd noise just dissipates. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that some of these stadiums are open-ended rather than being bowls. It is even worse in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where the stands are shaped to accommodate a baseball diamond and the first row in some instances is about twenty yards from the pitch. The atmosphere caused by an excited crowd is one of the best things about a World Cup, and it is sad that this element has generally been lacking. The atmosphere during the U.S.-Australia match in Winnipeg was quite good because it was basically a home game for the Americans, and at times it was good during the opening match between the hosts and China in Edmonton, but it has otherwise been subpar.

On a related issue, whose bright idea was it to host matches in Moncton, New Brunswick? The stadium is the tiniest in the tournament, and even so today’s France-England match, on paper one of the marquee matchups of this first week, was not a sellout. I still do not understand why Moncton is one of the host cities and Toronto, which has an excellent soccer-specific stadium, is not.

Fox’s match announcers are not nearly as good as ESPN’s were last year during the men’s World Cup. I have been enjoying Fox’s pregame/halftime/postgame shows, but the less said about their play-by-play announcers, the better (Justin Kutcher has been especially bad). It is clear that Fox is invested in having American announcers for an American broadcast, and it is true that American soccer announcing will not improve in the long run unless American announcers get the opportunity to call major events, but ESPN’s strategy of employing seasoned British commentators makes for a better viewing experience, and ultimately a better bottom line for the network, which is what Fox should be interested in.

None of the pre-tournament favorites have been impressive yet. It is true that Germany beat Ivory Coast 10-0, but that scoreline says much more about how the Ivoirians played than it does about the Germans. The other contenders all got the job done, winning their matches, but the tournament looks wide open.

Some of the newcomers have been very impressive. Nigeria look like an extremely dangerous side because of their speed. Holland also look like they will be a tough out, and Switzerland should have gotten a draw against Japan.

The fight for the four third-place qualification spots is already shaping up to be a fierce one. It is quite possible that a weaker third-place team from a weaker group (e.g., Cameroon) might win one of the spots instead one of the stronger teams (e.g., Australia) due to goal difference. This added element in the new 24-team format will bring some excellent excitement to the tournament that will at the very least cancel out the lack of excitement caused by some of the mismatches that result from the expanded field (a team scoring ten goals in a match might sound exciting, but it really is not).

Overall, I am enjoying the tournament thus far, and I think it will continue to get even better as it progresses.

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The 1991 Women’s World Cup Final: The Full Match Online

In preparation for the Women’s World Cup that begins this evening, I just watched the 1991 final between the U.S. and Norway, which is available in its entirety here. It was televised on the now-defunct SportsChannel via tape delay, so there are commercials throughout the broadcast, but one never misses any game action. Unsurprisingly for an American soccer broadcast from the 1990s, the announcing is terrible, not least because both announcers continuously refer to the women as “girls.” The play-by-play man also keeps using the word “defensing” instead of “defending,” as in “the U.S. did a good job defensing that corner kick.”

I must say that I enjoyed watching the video for its early-1990s quaintness almost as much as I enjoyed watching it for the game action (the match itself is a typical overly-cautious final, with the U.S.’s winning goal coming off a misplayed back pass to the Norwegian goalkeeper). There are classic commercials for products such as Chia Pets and The Clapper, as well as several commercials each from Sprint and AT&T, as this was the heyday of the long-distance wars. The broadcast must have been recorded from a Chicago station, as there are commercials for a Blackhawks game and a Bulls game, and one for the Northern Illinois University women’s basketball team (go Huskies!).

Although 1991 was not that long ago, the match shows that it was a very different era in women’s soccer. Each half was only 40 minutes long, as apparently FIFA was worried that women couldn’t handle a full 90, and the extra time periods would have been 10 minutes each instead of 15. Each team was only allowed two substitutes (this was also the case for the men’s game at the time), and there was a male referee (from the Soviet Union)! The site of the 1995 tournament had also yet to be decided. Similarly, late in the game the color announcer urges viewers to write to the U.S. Olympic Committee to request that women’s soccer be included in the 1996 summer Olympics. Finally, the official name of the match (if the telecast is to be believed) was the FIFA Women’s World Championship M&M’s Cup, not the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is how everyone refers to it now (just like people now refer to “Super Bowl I” when it was actually called the NFL-AFL Championship Game at the time).

It makes me happy that someone has taken the time to put the full match online. One sign that soccer is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. is that Americans are beginning to care more about the history of the game, not just what is going on now, and this video is one example.

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2015 Women’s World Cup Predictions

The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada begins on Saturday, and it is shaping up to be even more exciting than the thrilling 2011 edition in Germany. The field of contenders is larger than ever before, and there are a number of teams just below this level that could plausibly make runs deep into the tournament. Here are my predictions for the first round.

Group A
1. Canada
2. China
3. New Zealand
4. Netherlands

The hosts should have no problem winning this group as long as they don’t lose to China in the opening match of the tournament, and it is quite possible that they could replicate their third place finish from the 2012 Olympics (remember that, unlike on the men’s side, the women’s Olympic matches are full internationals) on the strength of their home field advantage. It will be interesting to see how China does. They were a world power in the 1990s, but have fallen off in recent years. It would not be surprising to see them eliminated in the second round, but it would not be especially surprising to see them make a run into the semifinals, either.

Group B
1. Germany
2. Norway
3. Ivory Coast
4. Thailand

Expect to see some high-scoring matches in this group as the two former champions beat up on the Ivoirians and Thais. I expect the third place team from this group to be eliminated because goal difference plays a major role in determining which third place teams advance (see the comments on Group D for more on the unusual “third place teams advancing” aspect of the tournament).

Group C
1. Japan
2. Ecuador
3. Switzerland
4. Cameroon

This is perhaps the most difficult group to predict (and thus should be one of the more exciting ones), as after the defending champions, Japan, it is wide open. I’m picking Ecuador second because they have the home hemisphere advantage and do not play Japan until the third match when the champions will have already clinched a spot in the second round.

Group D
1. U.S.
2. Sweden
3. Australia
4. Nigeria

This is the so-called “Group of Death” in the tournament, and it should produce some close, exciting matches. However, all of the people who are worried about whether the U.S. will be able to advance need to relax. The thing about a Group of Death is that it is difficult for all of the teams, which seems obvious, but is often forgotten by commentators. So yes, it will be a tough group for the U.S., but it will also be difficult for everyone else, and as the best team in the group, the U.S. should have no problem advancing, and will probably win the group. It also helps that the U.S. is playing on its own continent. The cities the U.S. will play in are close enough to the U.S.-Canada border that the team should enjoy a significant fan support advantage in each match.

The other important factor to remember Group of Death-wise is that for the first time, the tournament involves 24 teams instead of 16, and this means that four of the six third-place teams will advance to the second round (which is also new this year as a result of the enlarged field, rather than having the quarterfinals as the first knockout stage). So the Group of Death is actually much less deathly than Groups of Death usually are. (It is worth noting, though, that the Group of Deathiest Group of Death ever, Group E in the 1994 men’s World Cup, when all four teams earned four points in the group stage and had the same goal difference, and Norway was eliminated on goals scored, was part of a 24-team tournament.)

Group E
1. Brazil
2. South Korea
3. Spain
4. Costa Rica

Brazil should win this group without a problem, but this is another group where the fight for second and third will be fierce. South Korea were very impressive against the U.S. in their final tune-up match this past Saturday—well-organized and unintimidated—and they will be difficult to beat. On paper, Costa Rica are weaker than Spain, but playing in their home confederation they could be a darkhorse team like the men were last year.

Group F
1. France
2. England
3. Mexico
4. Colombia

France are one of the favorites to win the tournament, and should have no problem topping another group where the battle for the other places will be hotly contested. England have been steadily getting better over the years and are my pick to be the biggest surprise of the tournament. France are good enough to blow out the two teams from the Americas, which will mean a first-round exit for the Mexicans, and that New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, and Spain will be the top four third-place finishers.

While there are certain to be some lopsided scorelines during the first round as a result of the expanded field, overall the women’s game is as competitive as it has ever been, which should produce some classic matches in the knockout rounds. The field in the quarterfinals could possibly be the U.S., France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Sweden, and England, which would produce several games worthy of at least a semifinal match, if not a final. Also, the first five teams on that list all have legitimate shots at the title, thus at least one serious contender will miss out on the semifinals (based on the draw it is likely that Japan and France will meet in the quarterfinals). Expect to see at least a few penalty shootouts decide some of these titanic clashes.

I will make my predictions for the knockout stages once the field for the second round has been determined, but I will go on the record now as predicting that the U.S. will win the tournament. Their depth, combined with the home-continent advantage and their desire to avenge their second place finish in 2011, will be too much for the other contenders to handle.

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Books Acquired Recently: Sports History Edition

Katz, Jeff. Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike That Saved Baseball. New York: Dunne, 2015.

1981 was one of the weirdest seasons in Major League history because it was bisected by a players’ strike. Apparently no one has ever written a book on it, though, and I was too young to remember it, so when I heard about Katz’s book I was immediately intrigued.

Michaels, Al, with L. Jon Wertheim. You Can’t Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television. New York: Morrow, 2014.

Al Michaels has been one of my favorite sportscasters since I was old enough to be able to tell different announcers apart. I especially remember him announcing the excruciating 1988 NLCS, and also Monday Night Football, but have enjoyed his work on a number of sports throughout the years. He has announced some of the most important sports moments over the last forty years–way more than any other announcer–thus I am excited to read this memoir.

I missed one of the most famous of these moments, the earthquake during the 1989 World Series (you can watch a clip of Michaels’ call of the earthquake here; the earthquake happens at about 4:38 of the clip), and I am still kicking myself for it. I was nine at the time, and my bedtime was a half an hour after the games would begin (I believe they started at 8:00 and I had to go to bed at 8:30), which was incredibly frustrating. Usually I would watch that first half hour, but I would only get to see the entire first inning if I was lucky, and so I remember that night deciding to watch a sitcom during that time instead. This choice caused me to miss history. I remember flipping to ABC to check on the game during a commercial break and having the screen just be black (I was watching on a small black-and-white television in my parents’ room; I think they were entertaining company, which is why I wasn’t watching the color television in the living room), and thinking “that’s weird, they’re having technical difficulties. I guess I made the right choice.” But when I heard the next day (remember those days before the internet when you had to wait until the next morning to get the news from the paper?) what had happened I realized that I was wrong.

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