Tuesday 22 October 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'USA rubbing salt in Thailand wounds is not the worst thing happening in women's game'

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

It was hard to resist having a dig at the American women's soccer team after their 13-0 win over Thailand on Tuesday in the World Cup. Not everyone was able to resist the temptation with one former Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle saying she was "disgusted" with the Americans and another, Clare Rustad, declaring, "They could have won with some humility and grace and they just couldn't manage to do that."

The scenario was just too perfect. Like something out of a Mean Girls/Bring It On type movie, perhaps called Soccer Mom, starring Cameron Diaz as a ne'er do well who starts managing a team in order to pay a debt to a sinister bookie played by Ray Liotta. "Madison, Megan, we need to score 13, do you hear me THIRTEEN goals in this one." "But isn't that really mean?" "Omigod Marcy, shut up. Do you want to be a winner or not?"

But perhaps this was a case where we should employ some cultural sensitivity towards the poor old Yanks. They don't tend to be sentimental about also-rans. The gallant defeat is an alien concept to them.

A lot of the criticism centred on the fact that the Americans continued to celebrate exuberantly even after hitting double figures. But, as Martin Amis once pointed out, "Being more or less unembarrassable, Americans are fatally attracted to the embarrassing. They have an anti-talent for it."

Unlike English obnoxiousness, as witnessed at the Nations League in Portugal, which very deliberately aims to annoy, American obnoxiousness often proceeds from an ignorance of how their behaviour looks to others. There's an odd innocence about the citizens of the world's most powerful country. That determination to keep doing synchronised sideline dances in front of the Thai players probably had more do with ignorance than arrogance.

What could the USA do really?

They were entitled to believe that a team which has qualified for a world cup finals is not in need of pity. Had they eased up and started playing possession football, the Americans would have laid themselves open to charges of toying with and taunting their unfortunate opposition.

Players keen to keep their starting place on a strong team are unlikely to ease up. As has been the case with Dublin over the years the introduction of subs, bursting to stake a claim, was more likely to exacerbate than ameliorate the situation.

There have been a number of silly things said about Tuesday's match. One is that criticism of the Americans was sexist because a men's team wouldn't have been criticised like that. But most of the harshest words came from women and any men's team which stuck 13 goals past weaker opposition at a world cup finals would have been slagged off in the same way.

The idea that the result reveals the finals to be deeply flawed doesn't really hold water either. There has been no similar scoreline and sides below Thailand in the world rankings have acquitted themselves well, Nigeria defeating South Korea, Argentina holding one of the competition favourites, Japan, to a scoreless draw, Cameroon losing 1-0 to top-seeded Canada.

Progress is being made and one freak result doesn't change that. There's certainly a lot more strength in depth than at the Rugby World Cup where this year's tournament will surely see more results like 2015's 65-3 win for Australia over Uruguay, South Africa's 64-0 beatdown of the USA or Argentina's 64-19 defeat of Namibia.

The most interesting result of the week might actually have been that Argentinian draw with Japan. Two years ago Argentina had no manager and had to sleep on the team bus before an away game because the national federation, which hadn't funded women's soccer for two years, refused to pay for hotel rooms.

Macarena Sanchez, a former league title winner with Urquita, says, "The spanner in the works is a backward and macho thinking that permeates football." Sanchez took a case against the Argentinian FA back in January because of its attitude to women's football and says, "To put it simply we've been made invisible all this time. We're 100 years behind. Women's football grows because women push it but there are men who do not want us at that level."

That situation is not unique to Argentina. So if you're looking for baddies in the world of women's football, there are much worse things going on than the USA doing cheerleader routines after their tenth goal.

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