By Andrew Warshaw
July 7 – Rarely has one team at a major international tournament been so far ahead of the opposition in terms of skill, tactics and game management.
The United States’ predictable 2-0 win over European champions the Netherlands in Lyon on Sunday to retain the women’s World Cup served only to fuel the debate over whether their dominance of the women’s game can ever be seriously challenged.
One clue might come from FIFA statistics, reported by the BBC, that of 13.36 million girls and women playing football around the globe, 9.5 million of them come from the US where from an early age soccer has long been their preferred sport – and, crucially, one they have tended to stay with.
At times during this World Cup, there were moments when the US were wobbled – against hosts France and again against England in the semi-finals. For long periods in the final the Netherlands frustrated them. But in all those games, they always looked the more accomplished, coherent, organised team. One never really got the impression the four-time world champions would be on the end of an upset as they somehow always found a way to win.
“We leaned on our experience this entire tournament,” said 34-year-old Golden Boot winner Megan Rapinoe who gained global recognition not only for her performances on the pitch but her personality and outspoken views off it.
“We had some incredibly tough games to play. There were games where we didn’t play that well, games when we were under the pump. There were points where it was very difficult, and we had extremely tough teams that we had to play. Our run through the tournament was very difficult.
“For us older players especially to carry a lot of that load and set an example for the younger players is absolutely a huge reason why we’ve been so successful.”
While Rapinoe, scorer of a coolly taken penalty to open the score in the final, was undoubtedly the centre of attention throughout the tournament, 24-year-old Rose Lavelle was the USA’s emerging star capped by a brilliant second goal which finished off the Dutch.
The Americans may have been accused of arrogance and excessive goal celebrations but to have won 50% of the eight women’s World Cups that have taken place to date speaks volumes about the gap they have created between themselves and the other hopefuls.
“This is just an amazing group of players but an even better group of people – fantastic resilience and chemistry,” said coach Jill Ellis. “They put their heart and soul into this journey, I can’t thank them enough, they’ve been fantastic.”
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