Friday, August 10, 2012

Nadeshiko Take Olympic Silver Medal In Style

The 2012 Nadeshiko featured nine players from the World Cup winning side, but the team is clearly in a  transition.  The U.S. prevailed thanks to some passive defending by Japan, good shooting by Carli Lloyd and critical saves by Tweeting keeper Hope Solo. Missing an obvious U.S. hand ball by an experienced German referee and her crew was inexcusable.  The outrageous delay of game call on the Canadian goal keeper late in the semi-final with the U.S. helped the U.S. team get to the final.

The Canadian defenders in the wall blocked the kick, but a defender was judged to have used her hand in the box.  The subsequent penalty tied the score.  The Canadians eventually went out.  Fifteen year national team player Christie Rampone was asked when she could recall last seeing the six second delay of game penalty being called on a goal keeper: she replied "Never."   

The U.S. team, for all the talk about their new coach's tactics, plays about the same way as it always has, relying on physicality and a lot of hoofing the ball in the air.  Barcelona it's not.  Midfielder Megan Rapinoe adds technique, industry and a good shot that energizes a team that can spend long periods standing around. We should be proud of our gold medal winners, but we got a nice boost from two mediocre refereeing crews.  If this game were really about "redemption" for the U.S. as the pompous NBC announcers suggested, then it came with some human intervention too. 

The Nadeshiko deserve praise for the way they accepted their silver medals, with smiles of joy and pride.  This stands in stark contrast to the immature, surly, sullen and unsportmanlike women's gymnasts, including the one whose pout went viral.  A medal is a great accomplishment and is an occasion for celebration in the Olympic spirit.  Throwing a match or openly pouting do not reflect well on the Olympic ideals.

The fixers got punished and expelled.  The pouters get their just desserts by being immortalized on YouTube.

Playing the ball out of the back with short passes to feet was really fun to watch in this edition of the Nadeshiko.  The players, as a group, have some of the best technical passing and trapping skills of all the women's squads, and their give and goes look very Barcelona-like. 

Their finishing relies generally on short passes and dribbling with tight control in the box.  Again, it's great to see the style that Coach Sasaki has imprinted on this team.

The defending in front of the back four was a weakness for Nadeshiko in the tournament.  For some reason, defenders showed one side and backed off their attackers even as they hit the top of the box.The Barcelona defending style would have won the ball back early.  An Italian defending style would have set the defense to dispossess at least twenty five yards from the goal. 

By the time the U.S. attacker reached to top of the box, two or three Japan defenders were standing too close to each other. No one stepped up to actually tackle the ball.

Carli Lloyd's two goals were good shots that resulted directly from this indecision. Lloyd should have been dispossessed higher up the pitch, or her shots smothered at the top of the box.  Some of the back line looked a bit more passive and unsure of themselves, which comes with the passage of time.  It's a small point, in a final that reflected good football and good sportsmanship.

Congratulations to both teams.

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