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Back to the World Cup

June 25th, 2019 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

So this is what it looks like to arrive 90 minutes before kickoff.

I like the Fifa Women’s World Cup. It’s global. It can be exotic. The women attract a more PG-rated crowd than do the men. It provides three weeks or more of running narrative and it fills a bit of a void during the potentially slow soccer summer season.

I covered four men’s World Cups, and one women’s. The last time I saw the men play, in the World Cup, was the Japan/Korea World Cup of 2002. I covered the U.S. national team and its stunning 3-2 victory over highly regarded Portugal, its crucial 2-2 draw with South Korea and then the “what was that about?” 3-1 defeat to Poland, which finished last in the group.

Which leads to a silly anecdote I will get back to before I finish.

More pertinently, I now have seen a Fifa Women’s World Cup match live and in-person, tonight, for the first time since the 1999 championship match. Yes, the Brandi Chastain Sports Bra game at the Rose Bowl.

Today’s match was Italy and China in the round of 16 at France 2019, with this particular game played at Montpellier, a venue not far from where we live, in the south of France.


It was Italy 2, China 0, with France’s neighbors to the west dancing the Macarena when it was over on a hot evening. No sports bras were displayed as Italy celebrated.

Italy’s team does not have a lot of athletes, but it has quite a few players who seem to know their business on the pitch, which is what you would expect from an Italian side, now isn’t it?

They sniped one goal in each half, and China never really came close to scoring, on a night when European teams won two more times, leaving France 2019 with a quarterfinals that has seven Euro teams … and the U.S.

China is coming back up in the world, slowly, on the women’s side (the men’s team is still a train wreck), but the China federation’s fascination with big and tall female players has produced a slow and clumsy team that works a lot while not scoring.

Which takes us back to a couple of recollections.

Remember when China was good? That would be in 1999, when I was covering the U.S.-hosted tournament. China made the final, before 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, nearly beat the U.S. in regulation and took the game to extra time and then a shootout. Mind, this was the U.S. team of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly and Briana Scurry, and they needed a shootout to KO the Chinese.

–Remember when Brazil was good? That would have been as recent as the past decade, when Marta and the crew reached a final and a semifinal and now, like China, Brazil’s ceiling is winning the group.

In part, the decline of those former powers says something about the changes found in other areas of the game, and particularly in Europe, a continent that wasn’t quite as progressive as it seemed, once women’s soccer attained some visibility, following the 1990s.

Germany and the Scandinavians (Norway, Sweden) were pretty much all-in right away, but it took several other of the continent’s soccer powers a couple more decades to get fully engaged. Especially France, England, Italy and Spain. They just could not be bothered, but in recent years their national leagues (or specific clubs in them) have embraced the women’s game and it seems as if some of those clubs even pay their women a living wage.

Meantime, Europe is dominating the women’s game like never before. Seven of the eight quarterfinalists is all you need to know about the current state of play. It could even be Euros as all four semifinalists if the U.S. women are as nervous and jittery versus France on Friday as they were against Spain and go home at the hands of the hosts. (Can Megan Rapinoe win by herself?)

European clubs seem to be funding these growing women’s powerhouses in the margins of their domestic men’s set-up, and we can only wonder why it took the guys who run the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 so long to figure out it was the right move, and brings them credit.

So, we enjoyed the match. We got there early, which never happens (late is my fault, 99.9 percent of the time), and wondered if Montpellier was about to pop the “worst-attended match of the 2019 World Cup” on us, but in the half hour straddling kickoff, about 10,000 people showed up ($14 tickets in the end zones did not hurt), bringing the attendance to a respectable 17,492.

Montpellier was one of nine French cities to host matches in this tournament, and it is kind of a big deal with the city, which thinks more people should know about it.

Well, it put on a very nice, family-friendly, inexpensive event, reachable by tram (though we persisted in driving and parking on a tiny spot in the government housing outside the Stade de Mosson), and it’s hard to find something more interesting on a Tuesday night.

(And, just saying, Montpellier’s five matches included the least-attended — 8,009 on June 20 — and the third-least attended, but those five games included two Cameroon matches, two New Zealand matches and games played on two Mondays, two Thursdays and one Tuesday. You did OK, Montpellier, especially for a rugby town.)

Which takes me back to my last men’s World Cup, in 2002, when Landon Donovan was the bright new star and the Yanks got to the quarterfinals by defeating Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16.

I was NOT there for that memorable match, for silly reasons. I didn’t think the Yanks would get out of a group with Portugal, Poland and South Korea, plus I had to buy a round-ticket, right?

So, now the Yanks are advancing, 17 years ago, and get archrival Mexico. I had warned my boss that the company might want to reconsider this — leaving me in Seoul for four more days to see the Mexico game. They answered that query the next day — “Yes, stay!” after I had flown to LAX. They got me on the phone and I said, “I can always turn around and go back” and that was going to be what happened, but then the top editor in the chain took a deep breath and said, “Let’s just let this one go.” If I hadn’t flown so soon after the first round, USA-Mexico becomes my last men’s World Cup game — or even the Yanks versus Germany in the final eight.


Liked the women’s World Cup. Drop by, if one comes by your house sometime.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dennis Doescher // Jun 30, 2019 at 6:52 PM

    That’s why Texas is not a big soccer venue. The heat. Naw, it’s “American” football.

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