I’ve been following the Women’s World Cup from my perch here in Germany. Herewith my random observations:
As long as the German team was still in the running, there was a fair amount of public excitement. Of course it was only a fraction of the fever that erupts for the men’s team. In both 2006 (when the men’s World Cup was in Germany) and in 2010 (South Africa), the street connecting the Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule was blocked off for the “Fan Mile” – the massive outdoor viewing area with giant screens where people could drink beer and watch the game. This year, the area near the Gate was again closed down … for the Mercedes-Benz sponsored Fashion Week. EEEK!
Still, our corner pub, Walhalla, was packed for the German matches, and it has still been reasonably full for other quarter-finals. The crowd was more female than usual. The stadiums, too, have generally been sold out. My sister-in-law attended a couple of matches in person and reported that the vibe was much more mellow than the usual men’s game – more family-oriented and without a trace of hooliganism. (To be fair, hools are not nearly the problem in Germany that they are in England.)
The whole family was disappointed when Germany lost to Japan. You will note that the scorer’s name is Karina Maruyama. Yes, MARUyama. She is clearly related to the world’s greatest feline athlete, Maru. No wonder Japan won! Well, they did kick one goal more than the Germans, too, as German coach Sylvia Neid ruefully noted. I told the kids that Japan has had a crappy year of earthquakes and tsunamis, and perhaps this victory will lift a few spirits. We all felt better about Germany being eliminated when we thought of it from this angle.
The quality of play has been pretty high – certainly good enough to please any serious soccer fan – though I’d like to see more scoring from the field. Partly the lack of such goals can be chalked up to some admirable defensive work, as in the Germany-Japan game, which could easily have gone into a penalty shootout at 0-0 (were it not for MARUyama). But it may also be that apart from Brazil, which excelled in ball control in general and dribbling in particular, the teams’ offenses are just a bit underdeveloped.
Brazil totally deserved their defeat at the hands of the Americans. (Here’s a lively summary, if you missed the game.) Yes, they were the better goal scorers. But the Americans won through tenacity and character. They soldiered on with only ten players after a (justified) red card and an unjust repeat of the penalty that goalkeeper/goddess Hope Solo had originally stopped. Brazil’s magical striker, Marta, squandered all of the audience’s sympathy (both in the stadium and in the pubs) with her whining and complaining. She was only outdone by her teammate Erika, who in the waning moments of overtime flung herself onto the ground about a half minute after her last contact with another player, insisted on being carried off the field, and seconds later (time having been copiously wasted) sprung up miraculously from her stretcher!
I think Hope Solo must be the younger sister of Han Solo. Our other hero from the Brazil game – Abby Wambach, who scored in time extended for Erika’s time-wasting theatrics – is in the process of being renamed “Happy Wombat,” because that’s how her name often sounds when pronounced by the German TV commentators. I’m not sure she has any relation to actual wombats (she’s too slender and graceful for that) but she sure made us happy.
Even though Sweden beat the U.S. team, I like them, and so do my kids. We like the little dance they do when they kick a goal. We are amused by their Ikea uniforms.
In general, the uniforms are uglier than they need to be. The home uniforms for the U.S. are dreadful, with their too-tight shoulders and see-through, shoddy-looking fabric. Those of us watching the U.S.-Sweden game thought that the jerseys alone may be to blame for the loss. The French have a similarly snug fit. Maybe they’ve taken a page from some of the men in 2010, where the African teams, in particular, wore very body-conscious jerseys. But those tight shoulders look dysfunctional. Yuck. In general, jerseys should be loose enough to move and not so sloppy that they prove a hindrance. And what was up with the weird angled necklines on the German team?
The purple goalkeeper jerseys worn by Hope Solo and England’s Karen Bardsley are electric, though, and I’d love to see the men ape them!
It has also been fascinating to see how different squads perform femininity. Many of the German women seem to opt out of conventional femininity altogether (with a few notable exceptions), while the Americans mostly sport the classic ponytail look and a few markedly cute short cuts (like Megan Rapinoe’s). The Nordic women go for elaborate braided contraptions, which look elegant and time-consuming. I first chalked the braids up to the imperative to look feminine, but it occurs to me that they are probably great for keeping wisps out of one’s face, eliminating the need for a hairband on top of a ponytail. Obviously, there’s no “right” way to “do femininity” on the field. I suspect that different countries just have different women’s sporting cultures. In Germany, for instance, soccer is still considered very much a man’s game, so women might deliberately avoid looking girly.
Must run off to Walhalla now, hoping for more Happy Wombats!