Tuesday 01 October 2019

Big guns fire in women’s football at Olympic Games

Hampden Park in the sun as the teams line up for the opening game between the United States of America and France.

United States 4 France 2

Roy Hay

The women’s football tournament at the 30th Olympiad began today in Glasgow when the defending champion, the United States, came back from two goals down to defeat France by four goals to two at Hampden Park.

The USA is going for a third gold medal in succession and fourth overall at this event having won in 1996, 2004 and 2008.

Most people favoured the USA to win comfortably but France struck twice in a couple of minutes to rock the Americans.

In the 12th minute keeper Sarah Bouhaddi sent a long kick forward which was knocked on to Gaetane Thiney who fired it past Hope Solo.

Two minutes later the Americans failed to clear their lines and a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area was blasted in by Marie-Laure Delie.

USA lost Shannon Boxx after 17 minutes after she seemed to collapse with no one near her.

She was replaced by Carli Lloyd.

A couple of minutes after that the USA was back in the game when Abby Wambach outjumped the French defence to head home a corner kick from beyond the far post.

Now the Americans began to control the midfield and the French defence was stretched with Alex Morgan left unattended after a ball over the top.

She controlled it and lofted it over the keeper for the equaliser in 32 minutes.

A cracking first half ended all square in the brilliant sunshine and cool conditions which was ideal for good football.

Laura Georges of France in white and Kelley O'Hara of the USA

The Americans were the more physical but Les Bleus (playing in white) showed more cohesion, not surprising when seven of the starting eleven were from Olympique Lyonnais.

It was ominous for the French when the Americans increased the pace of the game early in the second half.

Megan Rapinoe began to cut the defence apart down the right wing. A series of crosses tested the turning defenders and then Alex Morgan cut inside for Lloyd to beat the keeper from 20 metres.

That goal came in 56 minutes and ten minutes later Tobin Heath found herself clear on the left and not offside when the ball was played. She got to the bye line and gave Morgan a tap-in at the far post.

Both sides had half-chances thereafter but the USA was firmly in control and ran out the game as comfortable winners.

USA v France

Earlier Team GB had kicked off the first game against New Zealand in a match it was expected to win comfortably.

In the end a tight match was settled by a 64th minute free kick by Stephanie Houghton, after the Kiwis had dominated the early running only to be pegged back by the British in the second part of the first half.

Neither team looked in the same league and the USA and France but it is a result that gives Team GB an excellent chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages.

The Hampden shambles which includes Colombia against DPR Korea

After the stunning match between the USA and France it was always possible that the second game on opening night at Hampden Park would be something of a let down.

The kick-off was delayed because of ‘an issue behind the scenes’, which did not help matters, the internet connection in the press room was not operative and it all meant that there were some very exasperated local journalists with deadlines to meet.

Colombia and North Korea, one of two Asian Confederation representatives, were expected to make up the numbers in Group G of the women’s competition.

At 8.30 pm, forty-five minutes after the scheduled start they took the field to warm-up. The vast majority of the crowd had gone home but it was still not clear how many had turned up for the United States versus France game. The organisers said they would let us know during the second match!

Finally it was announced that the game would kick off at 8.50 pm and that a statement would be released by the organisers.

It said ‘Today ahead of the women’s football match at Hampden Park, the South Korean flag was shown on a big screen highlights package instead of the North Korean flag. Clearly that is a mistake and we will apologise to the team and the National Olympic Committee and steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again.’

Shades of that world cup qualifier at Olympic Park when Australia played Israel but the public address played Deutschland uber Alles instead of the Israeli anthem.

I always thought the Scots were good at geography and geopolitics, but those responsible for this cock-up will be in some trouble.

Now to the football!

The match itself was a lovely contrast of styles. The Colombians played with flair and trickery particularly out wide where Liana Salazar reminded me of Jimmy Johnstone or Willie Henderson with her close control and willingness to take on defenders.

The Koreans were much more direct, precise in their passing and quite physical, despite giving away height and weight to many of their opponents.

They were prepared to shoot on sight, especially once they sensed that the opposing keeper, Sandra Sepulveda, was not always able to hang on to the ball when it was driven hard at her.

Choe Un Ju tested her reflexes with one effort which the keeper just managed to touch over the bar.

The only goal of the first half came after 39 minutes when the Korean pressure led to what the Scots would call a ‘stramash’ in the goal area and the ball ricocheted off Kelis Peduzine for an own goal against the Colombians.

Playmaker Maria Usme almost brought her team level with a free kick on to the top of the net, but when she had another try with a cross virtually the whole Colombian team was caught offside as the Korean defence sprinted out.

So the first half ended with Korean one-up.

The second half was poorer in quality as the teams tired and towards the end several went down with leg injuries or cramp.

A little knot of Colombian fans stayed on to try to lift their team, but it was the Koreans who got the decisive goal with only four minutes of normal time remaining.

Kim Song Hui lifted the ball over the Colombian keeper and though a defender headed the ball out it had already crossed the line and just to make sure the Koreans put the ball back in the net.

But it was the first effort which was credited.

The scorer then collapsed in a heap and had to be stretchered off twice and substituted the second time before she finally accepted the congratulations of her coach and limped off.

The attendance at Hampden Park was finally given as 18,009, but they made enough noise to make you think there were twice that number in the stadium.

In the other matches played today, Sweden hammered South Africa by four goals to one and Brazil demolished Cameroon five-nil.

Japan had to work hard to beat Canada by two goals to one.

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