It’s a Woman’s World

Carlotta Schlein - Swedish Captain

Carlotta Schelin – Swedish Captain

A quick post so I can dash off home to watch the Women’s Euro semi-final between Germany and host country Sweden. I won’t be alone, this is a highly anticipated match in Sweden – having sold out and expecting a large TV audience in the soccer mad Scandinavian nation. The total attendance for the Women’s Euro has already broken the record set four years ago in Finland, and there are still four more games to go. The tournament has met with such success that it has forced a men’s game between Swedish powerhouse IFK  Gothenburg and Helsingborg to shift so it will not conflict with the final. Should Sweden get to the final they are expecting that the TV audience will surpass the 3.8 million that watched the 2003 World Cup final between Sweden and Germany, that’s over half the population of the country – so it’s not just the women watching. I’m glad the women’s game can attract such a high level of attention, as it bodes well for the game not just in Sweden, but in other countries that have latched onto women’s soccer.

Once you’re reaching those sorts of numbers for a country, you’re looking at Superbowl-like numbers, where the game becomes one of those shared cultural experiences. I’m thinking about the importance of the ’72 and ’87 Can-USSR hockey series, or even the recent Olympic gold medal hockey games and how they become important moments for the nation. While these are usually more important as wins, Canadian soccer has its own pivotal moment during the Olympics last year when the women lost to the USA in the semi-final, and won the bronze vs France.

All of which sets the bar very high for Canada in two years when we host the Women’s World Cup. Will we be able to generate the interest in our own country to support the games? The growing interest in the sport in general and the women’s team in particular bodes well. However, the lack of women’s professional soccer within the country makes it difficult for fans to follow on a regular basis. While the CSA is supporting roster spots in the NWSL, there is no franchise located in Canada. It takes time for fans to identify with a team and it’s stars, so Canada is going to need a good performance in some friendlies ahead of the tournament to really highlight who their players are.

But despite the growing popularity, the women’s game still faces a number of hurdles – in a recent post on BBC Sport about the English team’s elimination from the Women’s Euro, almost half of the comments were deleted because they didn’t meet the moderator’s rules or various other offences that get your comment banned from a forum. While yes these are mostly trolls, the degree of banned comments shows a high level of hostility to the women’s game. It was worse than most North American forums where the argument goes that soccer isn’t a sport. Then again, the class connotations of the game in England are far different than in North America. English football is a working man’s game both in play and spectatorship – few Englishmen I met found David Cameron’s interest in Luis Suarez at all convincing. In North America, the “soft” reputation of the sport and its elitist middle and upper class associations has given the women’s game a level of acceptability, and to some degree popularity that is unusual in women’s sport. So oddly, the very class association that has held back the acceptability of the men’s game in North America has given the women’s game a firm base from which to grow.

Home Field Advantage

Let it snow!

Let it snow!

After the last round of CONCACAF qualifiers I wrote about the trouble the US faces in attempting to make the 2014 World Cup. Friday marked the second set of qualifiers for the group, with game 3 for all teams set to take place tomorrow. Match day 2 may have helped the Americans  a little, but the road ahead is still going to be tough based on the game they played against Costa Rica in Denver.

The game was notable for more than just the score, the Costa Rican FA has lodged a complaint with FIFA about the conditions under which the match was played. The game was played in the middle of a blizzard, and had to be stopped temporarily in the 2nd half so that grounds crews could clear the lines to allow play to continue. Ultimately, the US won 1-0 on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 16th minute. I don’t expect the Costa Rican challenge to amount to much as it is unlikely that FIFA will overturn a game that was played to completion, but again it highlights the desperate situation that the US faces in qualification. Despite the weather, the Costa Rican team managed some sustained pressure on the US, showing again the difficulty the US faces in ensuring its home points, much less picking up something on the road.

The justification for playing in Denver was not the potential for a late winter storm, but the need for the US to play at altitude before heading to Mexico City for the game on Tuesday. The US now goes into the most difficult venue in the confederation to play a Mexico team that is now desperate to show its fans that they can win. As much difficulty as the US faces, Mexico is making its own trouble after starting with two straight draws against Costa Rica (Mex blew a 2-0 lead) and then drawing Jamaica 0-0 on Thursday. Mexico is a stronger team than their record so far has shown, expect them to play their best on Tuesday.

Across the Atlantic and in contrast to the game in the blizzard, Northern Ireland was forced to cancel its qualifier against Russia because of snow, originally the game was postponed one day, but when conditions were not any better the following day officials were forced to cancel the match. This brings up another problem, as there are not to many open international dates left before qualification needs to be completed. Russia wants the match rescheduled to just before its match in Portugal on June 7, but Northern Ireland thinks that is too long after the end of their competitive season (early May, while Russia plays a spring to fall schedule like MLS) and the N. Ireland captain is getting married the day after the proposed make-up date (I don’t think FIFA will really take that into consideration).

Costa Rica and the US would be placed in much the same situation as both teams still have eight qualifiers to play out before the end of the October (the November international dates will be needed for the playoff qualifier between CONCACAF 4th place vs New Zealand), making for a very full international calendar already. That hardly allows for one more to be worked into the schedule. Had the game been abandoned when play was stopped in the second half, there would have been little choice but to reschedule the qualifier, but with a completed game FIFA will not want to revisit the result. And the US escapes a marginal performance with an act of God, rather than a hand of God.