With only one third of the women’s football Head Coaches being female at Rio 2016, they are in the minority. Probability dictates that a male should be clinching this year’s trophy. However, with three of these women (Ellis, Neid and Sundhage) having won FIFA Coach of the Year, it is very impossible to write any of them off just yet.
What will ultimately be the difference between these women? Half of these women are coaching their home nations. Only one team with a female coach have ever been crowned Olympic champions. Two female coaches have coached their side for just 2 years, whilst Neid has taken charge of Germany for over a decade. With every team playing three games in seven days, this will to test the small 18 player squads to the absolute limit. Whether any of this shall alter the outcome, only time will tell. For now, here is the lowdown on the female coaches and their respective teams.
In women’s football, what people tend to forget is aside from the winning, it is the progress and the stories like Vera Pauw’s South Africa that are just as important to see on the world stage. It is fair to say Banyana Banyana are in well-travelled hands of their Dutch coach. Scotland, Russia and the Netherlands make up her national CV. South Africa poses a slightly altered opportunity as they are not just here to take their team to the next level in terms of performance. They want women’s football participation to reach the heights of the other three teams listed here, and structurally create a pathway for women’s football in the future.
In 2012, they had no international friendlies prior to the Games. This time they have, but are unfortunately coming into the competition on the back of 4 straight losses to the US, the Netherlands twice, and the most recent just last week, in a crushing 4-1 loss to New Zealand. But there are positives, with the team arriving early to acclimatise to Rio’s conditions. We will see if against Sweden, this will give them a slight edge on the others in their first group game.
Hosts Brazil, China, and Sweden provide a tricky group from all corners of the globe for the 52nd best women’s team in the world to try and get results agains. If Pauw can get her team through the group stages, it would be one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. Players like Jermaine Seoposenwe, who scored five goals in their six Olympic qualifying games will be no doubt crucial to their success. With the experience of their coach, and London 2012 now under their belts, a few upsets look more likely than they did 4 years ago.
Sweden qualified in a very unique way to the Olympics, in a mini-tournament with other European nations. Their one European Championship title is also unique as the only trophy they have won, but they will certainly be looking to take their chance to add to their cabinet this summer.
There is no doubt Pia Sundhage is another experienced female coach in this Olympics, and she knows how to lead a team to Olympic glory. US coach Jill Ellis was actually her assistant coach in the US’ 2008 gold medal victory. Having been an assistant to China’s national team prior to this success, she has worked with players from some of the most dominant international teams in the World. Not shying away from controversy she called out players she used to coach, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo (USA regular internationals) in a 2015 newspaper interview for being challenging to coach, which did not sit well back in America. But that was last year, and with Rio days away the focus is solely on her team, who worryingly failed to win a single game at the 2015 World Cup. Performing well in this major tournament is paramount, especially as they are lucky to be here, after Team GB decided not to enter, even though England’s third place meant they automatically qualified.
Now with the 4-3-3 formation secured, Sundage’s attackers will be key in ensuring victories, after their defence has managed to keep six clean sheets in the last seven games. Hosts Brazil and China will be hard to manoeuvre from the top of the group, and it will only get tougher if they progress. But with a comfortable 3-0 win over Japan in their final warm-up game, this Olympics is the perfect remedy for Sundhage and her team to forget about their disappointing 2015 World Cup campaign.
Germany and Silvia Neid
Silvia Neid has made a habit of winning with Germany. Working her way through the ranks from the German Women’s Under 19 head coach, to becoming the head coach for the national side for a decade. She has incredibly been part of all eight of Germany’s UEFA Women’s EURO triumphs as player, assistant or head coach. Winning the World Cup at her first ever attempt, Neid will now want to go out with a bang in her last ever tournament. The prize missing from her shelf; the Olympics. Germany did not qualify for the last Olympic competition, as they were once again forced to watch the ever dominant USA take the crown. But despite the coach staying for one more competition, they are suffering from other retirements such as keeper Nadine Angerer. The most important loss and shame for the women’s footballing world is that of Celia Sasic, winner of the 2015 World Cup golden boot. Arguably retiring from football in her best years, Germany will have to rely on others to step up and fill that void.
Will Steffi Jones be inheriting an Olympic winning side? There will be plenty wanting to win this title not for themselves, but for their head coach. There would surely be no better send off for a woman who arguably has won it all for her country, as she takes up her new role as German women’s football scout. I think what happens in this competition could define the new direction the German team will take, and could have significant repercussions beyond Rio.
USA and Jill Ellis
The pressure is on the USA. Reigning champions and only ever surrendering this crown once in the competition’s history. For any coach, this is a burden. But to English-born Jill Ellis, who has just won the World Cup in some style, it is surely something she will relish. Once again the USA are favourites and for them to miss out on the final, would not only be a shock, but would be the first time ever in the Olympic competition, since it started 20 years ago.
History has been kind to the USWNT (US Women’s National Team) and it seems whatever coach they have, they always come up with a winning formula. It will be interesting this tournament to see the tactics other deploy to try and defeat them, and whether they are successful. Many have a lot of respect for the world’s best, sitting back and soaking up the pressure. It will certainly be interesting if the US do progress throughout the competition, whether anyone will boldly take the game to them, or whether they will come unstuck by an organised defensive unit.
Ellis and her team are set for an interesting tournament. And as always, there are high expectations. Her new policy of giving youth a chance, after the World Cup winning squad had the highest average age of any team present, means midfielder Heather O’Reilly is out, and players like Mallory Pugh, at just 17, are in. Bold in naming Megan Rapinoe, who is reported to not be fully fit, nor played a full 90 minutes since tearing her ACL, you do wonder whether the US Head Coach will even more critics after the Olympics, than she has had before the Games.
The competition starts on the 3rd August at 1pm Brazilian time with Sweden vs. South Africa and ends with the final on the 19th August with the final at 5.30pm GMT.
Bio: Emily Hassall is an English Durham University (UK) History Student as well as a football / soccer player who has played left wing for 13 years. Emily has been a Level 1 coach for the last 4 seasons and helped build a girls setup at Woodkirk Valley FC, a club in Leeds (UK). It started with just 8 girls and now has over 50 across four age groups! Emily has also been a referee for 5 seasons, she is an avid Manchester United fan and a keen watcher of all things women’s football.