Don’t expect World Cup semifinalists to get harsh media treatment, even in defeat
The sixth Women’s World Cup in Germany will know its two finalists by Wednesday night after the U.S. plays France in Moenchengladbach and Sweden plays Japan in Frankfurt.
But whatever the outcome of the two semifinal games, one thing is certain: The losing teams will not be insulted by their coaches or ripped apart by their media.
That’s what happened to England and Germany when they were eliminated from the 16-team tournament in the quarterfinals.
England Coach Hope Powell, in an extraordinary and unnecessary outburst after her team’s 4-3 penalty-kick loss to France, accused her players of cowardly behavior in not volunteering to take the kicks.
“Three times I had to ask before anyone stepped forward,” Powell told the Guardian newspaper. “That’s weak, it’s cowardice.”
To their credit, the England players fired back at Powell.
“I don’t think any of the players are cowards, to be honest,” defender Casey Stoney told BBC’s Radio 5 Live. “It’s a situation we’d not been in before and I don’t think anybody really wanted to take a penalty, but five people did.”
Midfielder Jill Scott responded frostily via Twitter, saying: “You win as a team, you lose as a team,” suggesting that Powell had broken that code.
Some German newspapers reacted bitterly to two-time defending champion and host Germany being knocked out by Japan, 1-0, in extra time.
One of them, Die Welt, called it “a disaster for the tournament, the mood of the nation, and for women’s soccer itself.”
“Nerves fail — bitter exit,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
No such responses are likely from the coaches of Wednesday’s four semifinalists or from the media in the teams’ respective countries.
France and Japan already have outdone themselves in getting this far for the first time, and France Coach Bruno Bini and Japan Coach Norio Sasaki are more likely to be lauded than criticized even if their teams fall at the penultimate hurdle.
The same goes for the U.S. and Sweden. Both teams have played well, and Coach Thomas Dennerby’s Swedish team is the only one of the semifinalists with a 4-0 record.
“This is our time, I feel, and everything is going our way,” Sweden’s captain, midfielder Caroline Seger, told FIFA.com. “We’ve come this far, so why stop now? You need to be hungry for a final and we are.”
The Japanese are no less focused, but, as in the Germany game, again will have to overcome a taller, heavier, more robust opponent.
“Physical contact is always a problem against European teams, which mostly leaves the Japanese players lying on the floor,” Sasaki admitted.
But Japan has the technical skill and tactical awareness to cause Sweden difficulty, and Sasaki uses interesting motivational tools.
Before the Germany game, he showed his players images of March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, Agence France-Presse reported, “to bring some mental stability and heart to the players.”
For the U.S. and France, it’s a matter of coming down off the emotional highs of their dramatic quarterfinal games, not that French forward Marie-Laure Delie has lost sight of the target.
“Our goal is to lift the World Cup,” she told FIFA.com. “We didn’t come here to tour Germany’s tourist attractions.”
Nor did the Americans, but for Coach Pia Sundhage it has been a matter of keeping the players on an even keel after the 5-3 penalty-kick victory over Brazil on Sunday.
“Emotionally, we have to be proud of what we did,” forward Lauren Cheney told U.S. Soccer, “but then put that behind us for the France game and try not to get too high or too low.”
U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo told FIFA.com that she and her teammates were drained after beating Brazil.
“After the game, I was emotional and exhausted. We talked for hours about what happened; everyone had a story to tell. The next morning we were still talking about it. It probably took us a full day to get it out of our systems,” Solo said. “But as we arrived in Duesseldorf on Monday evening, just seeing a new city and a new stadium changed our mind-sets.”
“I feel like our country is behind us, and that now the whole world is watching us,” she said. “We came to Germany to take part in the final.”
Jones reported from Ross-on-Wye, England.
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