And if this is a spoiler for you, cope.
During the match (which my wife insisted we watch in a pub, and being the good doting husband, I dutifully agreed) I was exchanging texts with an English mate of mine back in Plymouth (who flew out for the nuptials a couple of weeks ago), and at the end of the match he said this:
“Commiserations to you both. Now you truly understand the horror of being English following England in assorted epic failures . . . “
To which I replied:
“But unlike England, we should have won this thing.”
And we should have. Going into this match, I anticipated lengthy spells of Japanese possession, and I figured the end possession rate would be 55 to 60% Japan. They’re a possession side, and the evidence offered thus far at this tournament, we’re not. Yet, I believe the final stat on possession was 50 / 50. And we dominated. Starting Rapinoe on the left wing was ideal, as I suggested in my post following the France match. Alex Morgan didn’t start, and even though Morgan was probably our best player when she did come on as a sub to begin the second half, Cheney looked fine in the forward role today. To Morgan’s credit, when she came on, I told my wife that she’s great: pace to burn and a deft touch. She demonstrated both on her opening goal (which of course was supplied by a sublime Rapinoe through ball).
Everybody who watched the match will know our failures, so apologies in advance if I’m not adding anything new here. We didn’t convert our plentiful chances, especially in the first thirty minutes. I do think the team were under a tactical instruction to challenge the Japanese keeper from a distance, but that obviously didn’t work: it’s difficult to challenge the keeper when the shots are not on target. While there were a few shots that were on target (hitting the post and the cross bar is just bad luck), the Japanese keeper, when actually challenged, did make two incredible saves (one in normal play, one during the cursed penalty shootout). She’d be my “man of the match” so to speak.
The second failure was the first Japanese goal. It was a textbook error: never, ever, ever pass the ball, in defence, in your own box, in front of the goal mouth. Buehler did, and we all saw the result. It’s one of the first things anybody is taught in playing this sport. She was on the ground, her options were limited, but she could have poked it forward, not across. Avoiding that move should be part of the DNA of a soccer player, and I’m certain she knows this.
In the end, we dominated play, and lost. Soccer is like that, as the French (and Brazilians before them) well understand in this tournament. For a neutral, it was a wonderful match to watch. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a neutral today. I’ll leave it to my mate Rich to have the last word on this via text (he was quite possibly the lone English person pulling for the USA today):
“Oh well, it’s raised the profile of the women’s game. No consolation, I know, though.”
And to that, it did.
UPDATE: Kara McDermott has just posted her analysis over at Prost Amerika Soccer. McDermott’s writing on this tournament has been solid and insightful; if you’re interested you should check their archives.