Sport Women's World Cup

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Arrogant, entitled and self-centred, the US women's soccer team couldn't be more Trumpian'

Alex Morgan celebrates with Megan Rapinoe after scoring the USA’s 12th goal against Thailand. Photo: Getty
Alex Morgan celebrates with Megan Rapinoe after scoring the USA’s 12th goal against Thailand. Photo: Getty
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

One of the big political controversies in 1950s America was the question of "Who lost China." In other words, which American politicians or diplomats were responsible for the fact that Mao Tse-Tung's Communist forces won the Chinese Civil War.

As the fine American journalist Lars Erik Nelson once pointed out, the debate was "premised on the assumption that the convulsive Chinese Communist Revolution, a 40-year struggle involving hundreds of millions of desperate people could have been thwarted, or at least turned in a positive direction, by adroit diplomacy in Washington. The inanity of the China debate was instantly apparent."

The China debate came to mind over the past week as large sections of the media, not all American but all American-inspired, decided that the most important thing about not just the women's World Cup final, but the entire tournament, is the argument between Megan Rapinoe and Donald Trump.

Rapinoe is an excellent footballer, the best pure ballplayer on a US team elsewhere distinguished by power and pace who, appropriately enough, plays on the left wing. In a gesture of support for Colin Kaepernick, she refuses to sing her National Anthem as she's been prevented from kneeling as he does by the governing body of US women's soccer.

When asked if she'd go to the White House if the US won the final Rapinoe said no she wouldn't. Trump retorted in his usual Wildean fashion. Someone else said something and someone else said something else and, well, you know the boring score by now. The Rapinoe-Trump battle is now being portrayed as the tournament's main angle, its USP.

In other words, a great tournament involving teams from 24 countries encompassing six continents is being portrayed as merely incidental to an American squabble.

It seems that everything in American life these days, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Tonys, the Super Bowl half-time show, is seen through the prism of its perceived effect on the Liberace lookalike in the White House. Now it appears that an entire World Cup finals is being dragooned in the same direction.

It's claimed that when someone opposed to Trump's worldview wins an award, or in this case a tournament, it represents some kind of profoundly upsetting defeat for the president. But Trump has already won. Making these things all about him merely hands victory to a man whose defining characteristic is his egomania.

Trump's self-absorption may be of the chronic variety, but it is recognisably in the American grain all the same. He is hardly the only Yank convinced that everyone in the world must care about American things because nothing else really matters.

That kind of imperial arrogance is not absent from the US team which is why, though they will be deserving winners of the World Cup should they beat Holland today, they will also be peculiarly unlikable ones.

Defender Ali Krieger's comment that the USA possessed the two best teams at the finals was not just ungracious, it scarcely accorded with the fact that the US required the rub of the refereeing green to get past both Spain and France. The celebrations of the goals in their overwhelming victory over Thailand betrayed a desire to rub the opposition's face in the dirt which has not gone away since.

The attitude of their women's soccer team makes you realise how lucky we are that the Americans have so few meaningful international sides. Their preoccupations are so overwhelmingly domestic, with American football, baseball and basketball, that the only sight of American jingoism we normally get is when, about once a decade, they get a bit wound up at the Ryder Cup.

As far as their followers are concerned the entire purpose of the tournament is to showcase the talents of the US. There is little chance of Holland stopping them today. The Dutch side have more in common with the dour, well organised men's side which reached the 2010 final than the total football sides of the Cruyff era. They are fortuitous finalists, benefiting from a dubious late penalty against Japan and the failure of a Swedish side which had cleared Germany out of the way to capitalise on a 12-4 corner count in the semi.

The US should have plenty of time for the kind of carry on epitomised by Alex Morgan's "tea sipping" celebration against England. Rapinoe had no time for criticism of her team-mate. Her immediate reply to it was, "Wah, wah, wah." There's someone else who answers their critics like that, isn't there?

Arrogant, entitled and entirely self-centred, the US women's soccer team couldn't be more Trumpian. They're well met, the pair of them.

The last word: Bell departure leaves an uphill battle ahead

It's hard to watch the World Cup without imagining how fantastic it would be to see the Irish women's team competing in a major tournament. The good news is that this is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Runners-up slot in qualifying Group I would secure Ireland a play-off for a place in the 2021 European Championship finals in England.

With Germany likely to win the group, Ireland's main rivals for second place should be Ukraine, ranked seven places above us in the world rankings but hardly invincible.

The bad news is that Ireland have just lost manager Colin Bell who presided over a good World Cup qualifying campaign which included a 0-0 draw away to World Cup finalists Holland. Bell won a Champions League with 1. FFC Frankfurt in 2015 and has left to become assistant head coach with Huddersfield Town.

Bell says his move was prompted by the FAI's failure to develop the women's game properly, while they claim he was looking for too much money to stay. Either way, the Association don't come out of it too well. Managerless Ireland's crucial home against Ukraine is in October.

* * * * *

While most of the news about the big foreign international tournaments centred on Lionel Messi and Argentina falling short again in the Copa America, there were a couple of heart-warming minnow stories elsewhere.

In the CONCACAF Gold Cup Haiti reached the semi-finals and were only eliminated by a dubious Mexico penalty in extra-time. And in the African Cup of Nations, debut boys Madagascar not only exceeded expectations by reaching the knock-out stages, but did so as table-toppers.

Highlight of their campaign so far was a 2-0 win over Nigeria who are ranked 63 places above them. Madagascar play their last 16 game against the DR Congo in Alexandria this evening. Their best known player is veteran Lyon centre-back Jeremy Morel who played in last season's Champions League, thus giving Madagascar one more representative than Ireland.

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