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.