Print and Go Back News & Opinion

Monday, July 18, 2011
Five things we learned from the World Cup

By Joanne C. Gerstner

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Like all great parties, there's a time to shoo out the guests, clean up the place and turn out the lights.

The recovery is still ongoing around Frankfurt, both at the stadium and at the fan zone, as people stayed late and partied into the night to celebrate Japan's victory over the United States to win the Women's World Cup on Sunday.

Japan's dramatic 3-1 win in penalty kicks to decide a 2-2 tie capped off an exciting, wild, twist-filled World Cup.

Here are five things that emerged from the 2011 Women's World Cup:

1. Japan wins it all

If you picked the Japanese to win the World Cup before the tournament, you probably live in Japan or have a wickedly good crystal ball. The Japanese weren't expected to win their first World Cup, much less slay the game's giants in fine style. They showed heart, belief and confident play throughout the tournament.

They didn't care if an Asian team had never won the World Cup, of if they were shorter than most of the competition. Beating Sweden, Germany and the U.S. makes Japan very legitimate champions -- it beat the best to become the best.

2. Seize your chances

Germany, England, Sweden and the U.S. are probably kicking themselves over the slew of unconverted scoring chances in their knockout-round matches.

Germany and the U.S., in particular, had amazing scoring chances in their games against Japan that just failed to connect. Japan went on to win both games, and ultimately the World Cup, by seizing their scant chances.

Here's the memo: It's not the amount of chances, it's what you do with them. Leaving a littered trail of hit goalposts, shots sailing high and wide and other near-misses is not the highlight reel you want from the World Cup.

3. Speed and set pieces

This World Cup showed women's soccer is taking a big step forward in the game's technical advancement and sophistication. Set pieces, especially off corners leading to headers in the box, became a serious -- and reliable -- weapon for the top teams to rely upon. Taller players such as U.S. forward Abby Wambach, English midfielder Jill Scott and others regularly cashed in for goals off good service.

The next wave of soccer may require being a track star in your spare time. The Japanese, French, Brazilians and even the disorganized mess that was Equatorial Guinea knew how to fly with the ball. Either be fast yourself or eat dust. The game is speeding up in a big way.

4. Team, team, team

It's interesting how this one shook out. The squads that emphasized the team concept the most, Japan and the U.S., made it to the final. The ones that had conflict and chemistry issues, such as Brazil, England and Germany, imploded under pressure and fell by the wayside. England couldn't find enough volunteers to take penalty kicks against France in the quarters. Germany had public feuding between coach Silvia Neid and star striker Birgit Prinz run over a few games. Brazilian superstar Marta was screaming at her teammates during her team's loss to the U.S. in the quarters.

Bad, bad, bad stuff. However, there will be no questioning the heart and teamwork of Japan or the U.S. Both displayed it clearly, and maybe it serves as a shining lesson for future teams: Park the drama and play like a team.

5. Earning respect

The World Cup captivated the planet for a few weeks, with hearty soccer fans and casual ones alike enjoying the competitive games, extra time, penalty kicks and the overall drama. The knowledgeable German fans in the stands treated the games like any other Bundesliga affair, from chanting to support the players to whistling at the referees.

Seeing the beautiful game played by the world's best is captivating. And it only comes every four years.