66 Goals, 3 red cards, 3 penalty shoot outs, 4 female coaches. The women’s football competition has ended at Rio 2016 has ended with Germany getting gold (for the first time ever), Sweden silver and Canada the bronze.
Female coaches Silvia Neid and Pia Sundhage received gold and silver respectively after a 2-1 victory for Germany over Sweden. It was the first time in the competition’s history two female head coaches have featured in the final. For Silvia Neid and indeed Germany, it was a first historic Olympic gold to add to World Cup and European Championship medals.
So what did we learn about the female coaches and the competition as a whole? Here is a lowdown of a busy few weeks of football:
Poor World Cup = Amazing Olympic form?
There seems to be a ‘Rio role reversal’ between the World Cup and Olympics. The USA surprisingly fell at the quarter final stage, Japan did not even qualify, whilst GB did not enter a team. Canada performed poorly in front of their home World Cup crowd but came out with bronze at Rio, whilst Brazil went out in the Round of 16, and came a respectable fourth. Germany came fourth in Canada 2015, well short of their usual standard, whilst Sweden miserably exited in the last 16. Now Germany are back on top, whilst Sweden have finally found a very defensive and stubborn manner to get results.
The female coaches
Pauw can be proud of her winless South Africa side. They ran Sweden close in the first encounter, and were a more solid outlet than 2012. Conceding early in the first half against China was their downfall in that loss, whilst drawing with bronze medallists Brazil is something to be proud of. Again though, South African female players are in the limelight and although there were no shocks, there was also no humiliation. Seeing these women and the steady progress they are making under Pauw is just the beginning for Banyana Banyana. To progress, South Africa HAVE to score in major tournaments. In qualifying, goals came easy for Jermaine Seoposenwe, who scored five goals in their six games. Maybe if they were peppering the goal more, and clinical enough, they could escape from their group at the third time of asking.
Ellis will certainly be disappointed after Rio 2016. Nobody has ever held World Cup gold and Olympic gold at the same time, and this tradition will continue. In the group stages, Ellis’ team were the ones to beat. They were sailing past teams in the usual way, despite some saying they were not firing on all cylinders. Former USA coach, Pia Sundhage, and her underperforming Swedish team should not have been a problem. But once again the USA came unstuck because they did not have the creativity, or the clinical play to outwit their opponents. Letting it go to penalties against a well-organised Swedish side was their only error, in a pretty good tournament. It is a constant battle for the coach of the USA to have Plan B, C and D for teams who sit ten players behind the ball for the duration of the game. Sweden are not a ‘bunch of cowards’ as Hope Solo calls them, but were great tacticians, frustrating the USA time and time again. To win trophies, you cannot afford to have a lacklustre performance when it matters. Ellis’ team paid the price for that and came away for the first time in Olympic history, empty-handed.
Sweden were certainly the surprise package of Rio 2016. Third in their qualifying group, but making the final, their journey has similarities with that of Portugal’s European Championship team. The transformation of Sundhage’s team from the groups to the knockouts was something remarkable. She had coached USA for so many years, and personally for the coach, this was a battle she wanted to win. Robust and at times desperate defending, was the key to their success, and ultimately to the final. Penalty shoot-outs are of course down to chance, but Lindahl shone this tournament, with the team having a lot to thank their goalkeeper for. In the final they had to go for it slightly more, and paid the price against a very experienced Germany side. An unfortunate own goal, but only scoring 4 goals in the tournament, they needed to score more in my opinion to get that all-important gold. A silver was probably more than many fans expected to come away with. But it shows that Sundhage’s side can do it on a bigger stage, and importantly deserved to be there, despite their novel way of qualifying.
It was the final curtain for Neid, and what better way to end her decade with the German women’s football team than leading them to Olympic gold. It did not start as they would have wanted, coming second to Canada in their group, but beating them in the semi-finals was clear revenge. Dispatching Canada and China in normal time was also comforting to Neid on their journey through the knockout stages. In the final there was an element of luck after numerous missed opportunities, but eventually they ran out winners. The mix of experience, craft and pace was too much for Sweden, especially after the first goal went in, as Pia Sundhage’s team had to come out of their defensive shells.
It is hard to say how Germany performed without World Cup Golden Boot winner Celia Sasic, who has retired from football completely this year. However, inheriting a medal winning team is something that Silvia Neid will have wanted to give to Steffi Jones, as she moves from Head Coach to Scout for the German national team. A ‘transition’ will now begin; but Germany certainly are not transitioning from winning just yet. For Silvia Neid she remains firmly in the German national setup, changing from coach to scout, and bringing just what Germany need into the squad, as they search for more international titles.
My favourite part of the tournament?
For me, I think one of the clear shining lights of this tournament, was that the ‘Old Guard’ of players in many of the teams, were some of the best on the field. Constantly, a coach is told that taking youth to tournaments early is fantastic experience. Youth provides pace, they are fearless, and can provide that extra dimension that is sometimes missing. But I think the more senior players within some teams are irreplaceable, and this tournament proved that. Carli Lloyd was scoring goals for fun in the group stages. Christine Sinclair helped Canada clinch the bronze medal on her 250th appearance. Marta became an idol for the whole of Brazil to get behind, most noticeably when many fans crossed out Neymar’s name, and replaced it with the female Number 10’s name instead. Formiga also for Brazil, at 38, has incredibly been at every single Olympic tournament since its inception in 1996, was still very much the backbone of her team at centre midfield, with her extraordinary passing range. Fischer and Schelin for Sweden worked tirelessly time and time again to get their team to the final. And top scorer in the tournament, Melanie Behringer for Germany, aided with assists as well as scoring herself getting Neid’s side out of difficulty.
Having the tournament at one of the most famous homes of football, really brought women’s football at Rio 2016 to life. We did have goals, but we also had a lot of tight matches, with women’s international football becoming more than the same old teams picking up the medals.
The 4 female coaches each had a huge role to play, and I hope that by 2020 in Tokyo, many more are in the dugout.
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.