Guest Post by Sophie Alegi
11-year-old soccer player and writer in Michigan. This is her first match report.
December 8, 2012
Detroit –17,371 people came to Ford Field to watch USA vs. China: an attendance record for a women’s soccer game in Michigan.
The US was not used to the artificial surface. Players struggled to control the ball. The surface was clearly not appropriate for soccer because when they passed the ball, it bounced up and down slightly, as if the carpet was ruffled.
China’s defense was shaky in the first five minutes, letting at least six shots be hammered at their goalkeeper, Zhang Yue. The best chance was for Amy Rodriguez who was playing in her 100th international match. China let the US pin them down in their own half. But the Chinese pulled together, playing tight defense.
All of the players were extremely close together; making it very difficult for the US to connect their usual passes. The US started to look a little wobbly in the back, with Shannon Boxx giving up ball after ball in the defensive third. Hope Solo managed to keep out a powerful shot by the Chinese number ten with a spectacular aerial save.
In the midfield, the US gave up at least ten balls, giving China easy opportunities to go forward. But the US defense held up, and only a few shots were directed at Solo.
Unfortunately, the two times the ball went down the wing Megan Rapinoe failed to get the ball to Abby Wambach’s head. China started to get physical about eighteen minutes into the half. Every time an American player turned, she would get brutally fouled. It hurts to fall on that carpet surface!
Twenty minutes in, a Chinese player got a yellow card. On the resulting play, Wambach received a cross. The ball glanced off her head and out. She probably wanted that one back. The young Chinese team did well to close up the gaps, but the US team was playing at the speed of molasses.
Thirty minutes in the US began to play in the Chinese penalty box. They would pass around on the outskirts, trying to find an opening. The referee was not very good. She botched a corner kick call and awarded a goal kick instead. A corner was awarded to the US thirty-one minutes in. Wambach got clattered on the back post by a giant Chinese defender.
The Football Scholars Forum, an international online think tank, convened on November 14 to discuss Football in the Middle East. The conversation focused on a special issue of the academic journal Soccer and Society, edited by Alon Raab and Issam Khalidi. The group began by noting that while football has been a critical force in broader political and cultural developments in the region, there is little institutional support for studying the game in the Middle East.
The ensuing 90-minute discussion demonstrated the value of scholarly collaboration and research on the game. The group explored a dizzying number of topics and territories, including football as a source of unity and hope and as a site of political and ideological conflict; the 2022 World Cup in Qatar; soccerpolitics in Turkey; sport and Islamism; Palestinian and Iraqi Kurdish women’s teams; and football films and poetry.
For a Storify Twitter timeline click here.
Download the mp3 of the session here.
The 90th Minute Trailer from Jun Stinson on Vimeo.
The Football Scholars Forum is holding its final session of the 2012 season on Wednesday, December 5, at 3:30pm EST, on Jun Stinson’s short film, The 90th Minute. The 20-minute documentary follows three members of FC Gold Pride, the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer champions. The film sheds light on what it’s like to be a female pro player in the U.S. — a dream that has become more elusive after the demise of the WPS.
Why do Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and others struggle to play professionally in their country? Why have two pro women’s soccer leagues failed since the heady days of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and the 1999 Women’s World Cup? What needs to happen for a new women’s league in the U.S. to be sustainable? How does the situation in the U.S. compare with international trends?
Jun Stinson recorded an interview with me ahead of the session in which I also asked a few questions on behalf of FSF members. To listen click here. Gwen Oxenham, former Duke and Santos player and one of the producers of the film Pelada will participate in what promises to be a terrific season finale!
For more information about this event please contact Alex Galarza: galarza1 [at] msu [dot] edu.
Update: On November 21, “U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati announced the launch of a women’s professional league which will start play in March.” Details here.
South Africa’s women’s national team recorded its most important victory ever on November 7 by defeating Nigeria 1-0 in the semifinal of the 8th African Women’s Football Championship in Bata, Equatorial Guinea. Defender Janine Van Wyk long-range blast gave Banyana Banyana (The Girls) their first-ever win against the six-time champion Super Falcons. South Africa will face Equatorial Guinea in the final on Sunday, November 11, a team that beat them 1-0 in the first group stage match.
“I have been in the Banyana Banyana side since 2004 and we have tried for so long to beat the Nigerians but luck has never been on our side, but now we have proved that we can compete and beat of the best on the continent,” said Van Wyk. “At the CAF African Championship held in South Africa in 2010 I scored with a free kick from 35 metres out against Nigeria, and my teammates always remind me that I normally reserve my best for matches against Nigeria,” she laughed.
With the men’s team — Bafana Bafana — struggling, it is perhaps not surprising that South African fans and the football establishment are leaping onto the Banyana bandwagon. Following the win against Nigeria, SAFA President Kirsten Nematandani announced he would be flying out to attend the final. “The victory should open doors for the growth of women’s soccer,” he said. “Well done to the girls for making the country proud.”
“We are in a very positive frame of mind going into the final game against the hosts,” said Joseph Mkhonza, the Banyana head coach. “But we are still focused on attaining our mission of taking gold in this tournament. We came here with a mission and that mission is still on track,” he said. “We have some homework to do before Sunday’s final, knowing we will play in front of a large red-clad crowd in what is certain to be a packed Malabo stadium, but we will be ready for the challenge.”
Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (c.h.bolsmann [at] aston [dot] ac [dot] uk)
COVENTRY–In a week when South African cricketers and golfers recorded convincing victories, a hat trick of results would have seen South Africa’s women’s national team celebrate their first appearance at the Olympic Games by beating Sweden. But facing a team ranked 4th in the world, Banyana Banyana (Zulu for “the ladies”) could not pull off the miracle win.
The South Africans met their Swedish counterparts in Coventry, 100 miles north of London, in the second match of a double header. Japan beat Canada 2-1 in the early game in front of 18,000 spectators, while the 2011 World Cup third-place finishers defeated South Africa 4-1.
Normally called the Ricoh Arena and home to Coventry City FC, the City of Coventry Stadium looked quite different from its normal appearance full of advertising hoardings. The Olympic organisers were not quite able to cover up all of Coventry City’s history though, as a photo of the 1987 FA Cup winning team adorned one of the stadium walls.
While Banyana Banyana have always worn the yellow and green colours of the South African Football Association, this time the squad entered the pitch in a horrible-looking green and white vertically striped kit, courtesy of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s official kit supplier: Erke, from China. The crowd had dwindled to a few thousand for the second match and the majority of photo press had left the stadium. A small contingent of South African fans remained who were vocal throughout but were outnumbered by Swedish fans and locals who supported their European neighbours.
Sweden kicked off and, ominously, twice hit the cross bar in the opening six minutes. The Scandinavians went ahead in the 7th minute thanks to a Nilla Fischer shot from outside the box that was cruelly deflected past United States-based Roxanne Barker in the South African goal. Then the Swedes again hit the cross bar and doubled their lead in the 20th minute when Lisa Dahlkvist poked home a ball from the flanks. A minute later Sweden scored a third goal when South African stalwart Janine van Wyk was beaten for pace on a through ball and Lotta Schelin slotted past the on rushing South African keeper. After 21 minutes Banyana’s debut had turned into a nightmare and a real humiliation was on the cards.
The South African midfield were constantly over run by the more forceful and creative Swedes and the defence were outpaced on numerous occasions, allowing for the Swedes to cross balls into the box at leisure. To her credit, Barker dealt well with crosses and high balls and remained calm under constant Swedish pressure.
The second half saw Banyana kick off with far more purpose and creative intent. In the 60th minute, Portia Modise, a former World Player of the Year nominee, dispossessed a Swedish midfielder well within the South African half and from inside the centre circle unleashed a wonderful strike to beat Hedvig Lindahl. Modise’s goal restored South African spirits and momentarily gave South African supporters some hope. But three minutes later Schelin got her second goal of the match and restored the three-goal margin.
The final quarter of the game saw South Africa struggle with fitness and the match ended with a resounding victory for the Swedes. Sweden had over 57% possession and outshot South Africa 21 to 7. Banyana Banyana were outclassed by a technically superior and fitter Swedish side. After the shock of allowing three goals within 25 minutes, Banyana settled and showed a few individual moments of skill but were unable to retain possession for any length of time. It won’t get any easier in this tournament for South Africa: they face Canada on Saturday and World Champions Japan the following week.
Another uplifting football moment courtesy of the women who play, officiate and support the game.
The New York Times today has a piece by Jere Longman about homophobia in the Nigerian team about to play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. While it’s nice to see the newspaper of record in the U.S. paying attention to the women’s game and to African women in particular, the overall thrust of the article is that homophobia is an example of the “cultural obstacles that remain for many African women who play soccer.”
The story focuses on a single character: head coach Eucharia Uche. A former player and fervent evangelical Christian, Uche claims to have “used religion in an attempt to rid her team of homosexual behavior,” describing the latter as a “dirty issue,” and “spiritually, morally very wrong.”
There are several problems with the article, but I’ll focus on two key ones: (1) blaming “culture,” and (2) African “exceptionalism.” Let’s tackle the first one. While “cultural inhibitions are still cited as inhibitions to girls playing” notes Martha Saavedra’s seminal 2003 overview of the African women’s game published in Soccer and Society, “the general economic troubles and the lack of resources overall is still perhaps the most serious hindrance. Even the bans on women’s football in Northern Nigeria may be indirectly linked to this.” Yes, cultural conservatism (not “culture”) is a factor in some areas, but this does not necessarily apply to all of Nigeria, let alone all of “Africa” as the article’s headline suggests.
This reductionism leads to my second point: African exceptionalism. The first thirteen paragraphs of the article create the impression that homophobia is a singularly “African” issue. It is only in the 14th paragraph that some de-exoticization finally takes place: “The treatment of lesbians in sport is not a matter restricted to women in Africa. Some women on previous United States national soccer teams have been reluctant to live openly gay lifestyles for fear of repercussions.” Surely, American readers of the Times would have been quite interested to learn more about the existence of a “culture” of silence and repression in elite U.S. soccer. It might even invite a comparison with the grim situation in Uche’s squad.
The lack of discussion about women’s football in Nigeria is puzzling as well. The article contains not a single reference to the rich history of the game in Africa’s most populous nation. As I write in African Soccerscapes, women in Nigeria were playing as early as 1943. The 20 October 1943 issue of the Nigerian Spokesman newspaper ran this story:
In response to the demand of the people of Onitsha, the Sierra Leonean friendly Society has started to make arrangements for the replay of the ladies’ football mach which so thrilled the township recently. Good news for football enthusiasts . . . It was the first of its kind to be staged in Onitsha.” Fine show but not up to the standard of boys soccer. “It seemed odd to some to see our women in shorts kicking a football about the field, or clashing with one another after the manner of men . . . but the game itself, when it came to be played, exploded all the fantastic theories some malevolent individuals had concocted about it, and it was a colossal success both in the fun that it provided and on the financial side of it.
By 1960 (Nigeria’s independence) there were women’s teams in Jos, Lagos, Calabar, Onitsha, Kanu, Enugu and other towns. By 1989 there were 28 women’s clubs active, as well as a Nigerian Female Football Organizers Association. This history is vital to gaining a sharper understanding of the Super Falcons’ continental dominance since they first represented Africa at the WWC in 1991.
Let’s hope that future U.S. media coverage of the 2011 WWC will be more informed and more tightly focused on the game itself. The fans deserve it. The players deserve it. Football deserves it.