Welcome to your weekly dose of women’s football affairs. It is less than two months until the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 24 teams heading to France have been busy over the international break (1-9 April) putting in final preparations towards the tournament. At this point I’m pretty sure the various coaches know who they’ll be taking to France – Netherlands boss Sarina Wiegman announced her squad on Wednesday. The trophy arrived in Africa, making stops in South Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria and 2020 Olympic qualifying concluded in Africa (1st round) and Asia (2nd round).
The April international break saw 22 out of the 24 (Thailand and Argentina didn’t see any action) world cup bound teams fine-tune their preparations ahead of the highly anticipated tournament. Defending champions the United States of America overcame Australia by a 5-3 scoreline in a game which I (and probably a lot of people) was not expecting to have that many goals considering the quality of the two sides and then breezed through Belgium (ranked 20th) by putting 6 past them.
One highlight of the squad that faced these two teams was the return of veteran defender Ali Krieger who had been left out of the team by coach Jill Ellis since 2017 (as a fan of hers I was very excited to see her back on the team).
That match exposed some serious lapses in both teams’ defense which they will have to deal with before June comes around. For a USA team that prided itself on a solid, unbeatable defense on route to winning the 2015 title, a failure to restore the defense to its former glory might upset their hopes of a title defense. Of course, this may prove quite a difficult task as Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara are the only remaining members of 2015’s “Department of Defense”.
Host France also won their two matches – 3-1 against Japan and 4-0 against Denmark – and seems quite poised for a successful world cup campaign. As I wasn’t able to watch either game I don’t have much to offer on what they should or shouldn’t be doing, however, I do know this: they definitely are one of the teams to beat and having a home advantage just adds more fuel to their…….
Brazil, on the other hand, might be heading into dismal showing come summertime as they failed to win against both Spain and newcomers Scotland (they have lost all 5 matches played so far). I’m sure you’re asking, “Well, where was Marta?” She was in both games. So were Formiga, Debinha, Monica, Andressa and goalkeeper Aline. The problem for me with Brazil recently is that they have superb individual players who can’t seem to find team success and that will definitely hurt them at the world cup.
Debutants South Africa and Jamaica squared off in Durban in a match which ended 1-1. They may be underdogs, but they have a lot of spirit and should not be written off.
Still, on the world cup, the coveted trophy is still on tour and was on the African continent this past week in Yaounde, Cameroon and Abuja, Nigeria (it was in Durban, South Africa the week before) before continuing on to Norway and Germany on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Moving away from this summer’s showpiece, the first and second rounds of the African and Asian Olympic qualifiers, respectively, came to a conclusion. In Africa, 9 teams progressed to the second round (26 August – 3 September, 2019) including Malawi, Mali, Botswana and Algeria (more on fixtures and results here). Over in Asia, last month’s winners of the Southern African Football Federation Women’s Championship India were shockingly kicked out of qualification after being held to a 3-3 draw by Myanmar. Eight teams will play in the third round including Myanmar, Thailand, Australia and North Korea.
Remember cyclone Idai that hit Mozambique last month and left a wave of devastation in its wake? Well, a local women’s football team in one of the affected communities gave up their playing field to be used as a cholera treatment centre. The players, together with other community members, put up tents which are reported to cater for 100 patients at a time. This is what football – and sport in general – can do. Why won’t I love it?
Yet another sponsorship deal has been struck in the game. This time between the Scottish FA and retail brand Spar Scotland. The deal, which runs until 2020, will see Spar partnering with the Scottish Women’s National Team as they seek glory in their maiden appearance at the world cup.
This announcement continues the recent trend of commercial brands finally awakening to the value of investing in the game and is great to see although these deals have been so far skewed to Europe. Why isn’t this happening on the other continents? What are the European FA’s doing that the rest aren’t which is leading to increased investment in the game over there? This will only continue to increase the gap that exists between European football and the rest, which is already quite huge (the North Americans are fine though). These are questions that beg answers (please feel free to share if you have them) and I hope the other continents wake up and follow suit.
All these sponsorship deals that have emerged can be attributed to the increasing coverage the women’s game has been getting over the past few years. Granted, there’s still much to be done in this area, but as the saying goes “little drops of water make a mighty ocean”.
As the fight for more coverage continues, the UK’s Channel 4 announced the launch of a new show, Women’s Football World, in partnership with Coca-Cola and presented by Claire Balding. The weekly show will cover top leagues in 5 countries: England’s FA Women’s Super League, Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga, USA’s National Women’s Soccer League, France’s Division 1 Feminine and Italy’s Serie A Women as well as the UEFA Women’s Champions League. The show will begin on Saturday 20 April at 9:30am BST.
Similarly, online publisher GiveMeSport recruited journalist Benny Bonsu as their first head of women’s sport. The task required of her and her team is to build a dedicated women’s editorial brand to meet fans’ growing demand.