BY Harry Corton
Dig out that booze-stained St George’s flag and get the company sweep-stakes random generator whirring - it’s time for another footballing bonanza. In case you don’t know your Rachel Dalys from your Toni Duggans, we’ve produced this handy little guide to fill you in.
This is not some list of authoritarian decrees that must be followed or else expect to be sent to some internment camp in Siberia. This is, after all, a World Cup, and a carnival atmosphere is actively encouraged. Consider this simply as a framework for “top tips” for enjoying the tournament for those yet to be fully converted.
1. DON’T Make Unhelpful Comparisons
It can be helpful to frame the women’s game through the prism of the vast amounts of coverage we enjoy for the men’s game. But the fact is, the two are distinctly different sports and should be treated as such.
The inherent physiological differences between the sexes result in an equally compelling but distinctly different type of contest. Certain skill-sets are more prominent, with top level games a thorough tactical battle. The more measured pace to games means holding onto the ball and building play is vital whilst spotting an incisive through-ball is often the decisive factor.
Don’t be that broken record that keeps bleating lines like, “their finishing is hopeless” or asking, “but when are they going to get stuck in”. Understand - the two are practically different sports and appreciate the breath of fresh air.
2. DO Spare A Thought For The Keepers
Who’d be a bloody keeper, eh? First to bear the brunt of any finger-pointing, usually stemming from a botched back pass for which there was no need in the first place. Goalies are a rare breed, either gluttons for punishment, a bit barmy or a combination of both. They’re often the first to be singled out by the pub bore who’s determined to find reasons to rubbish the women’s game.
It’s easy to blame these poor souls when muck does hit the fan, but we see all too regularly how cataclysmic failings can happen to a shot-stopper at any time, regardless of gender or standard *cough cough, Lloris Karius*.
The stick meted out to female stoppers is at times particularly unfair, here’s why.
In America’s National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the average height of a goalkeeper is 5ft 9in while the average size of the gargantuan goalies in the Premier League is 6ft3in. So, when you consider that the cross-bar used by both sits 8ft off the ground, you can see how tough it is to operate between the sticks in the women’s game and why more goals go in over the keepers' heads.
The upshot to this is that free-kicks are a particularly effective route to goal, a thrilling nuance unique to the women’s game. It’s not uncommon for someone to have a pop from 40 yards out and, if hit sweetly enough, see it nestle in any given corner of the net. *Queue scenes.*
How about this effort from Sissi in '99 to give Brazil an extra-time winner? An oldie but a goldie.
3. DO Feel Inspired By A Level Of Sportsmanship
Few can honestly say that the incessant simulation, gamesmanship and general skullduggery we’ve reluctantly come to expect from the Premier League is not a blot on the landscape.
Thankfully, you can rest easy for a while at least while those unscrupulous so and so’s jet off to their summer Caribbean hideaways. Probably down to the lack of megabucks yet to pollute the sport, it is not something your dad is honour bound to get hot under the collar about when watching the women’s game.
It’s not just about what is or isn’t at stake. It’s hard to speculate what the reason for this blessing is. Some argue it’s simply because nobody has started doing it yet, and who in their right mind would fancy being the first?
Another transgression yet to infect the sport is the scourge of timewasting. This petty practice just isn’t de rigueur and it’s not the only example of players holding themselves to higher standards. Drink it in while you can.
4. DO Keep An Eye On These Feisty Rivalries.
While England v Argentina holds nowhere near the cache that is does in other sports, there are some matchups where fierce emotions have taken hold. The opening Group D game between England and Scotland should get the heart-rate going on both sides of the border. Speaking of which, France v Germany is another bout we could well see.
Often these rivalries come about through no reason other than one side perennially dunking on another as in the case of New Zealand who’ve never beaten noisy neighbours Australia is 11 attempts. After the Ferns claimed the prize scalp of England last week, they’ll fancy their chances if they do meet in France. The Matildas look more beatable as ever, having lost their last three warm-up matches.
5. DO Have At Least A Basic Knowledge Of The Nations Competing.
The USA are a shining example of how the women’s game, when suitably funded and organised by reasonably competent people, can develop to a level with big bucks at stake. Their domestic league is the envy of all the world, with most of the franchised NWSL clubs infinitely more profitable than their contemporaries in other parts of the world.
The contrasting development phases of the sport from country to country means that even at the World Cup, there are some glaring disparities in quality.
In Canada four years ago, we saw on multiple occasions strong European outfits put double figures past opposition from less prosperous continents. Bear in mind that the notion of a central, professional contract isn’t even close to a pipe-dream to players in some parts of the world. The amateurish feel to some of these squads does add a level of romance you seldom get in the mainstream and ensures that when upsets do happen, they’re truly the stuff of fairly tales.
Scotland captain Rachel Corsie took a gamble by quitting her accountancy job to persue a football career.
6. DO Get Immersed In The Fan Culture.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a vibrant following in the host nation, France. The record attendance for a domestic match was smashed this year. Just shy of 26,000 people watched the season decider between the double-winning Lyon and PSG. A sell-out is expected at the 60,000 capacity Lyon Olympic Stadium where both semi-finals are being held.
The mighty USWNT attract huge swathes of support regardless of where in the world they’re playing. Expect the Germans, Japanese and anyone with the smallest semblance of a pedigree in this tournament to turnout in a big way to cheer on their nations.
7. DON’T Expect Too Many Differences.
Despite the unprecedented administrative shit-show at FIFA permeating every aspect of the sport, including the farcical ticket situation for this tournament, we can hope that on the pitch, the conditions will be up to standard.
Whether you thought it was a complete shambles or the greatest thing since sliced gherkins, VAR will be back in France. Regardless of its competency it certainly delivered high drama and we can look forward to more of these heart-stopping moments this summer.
8. DO Watch It In The Pub
Remember the singalongs, the euphoria, the beer showers? Head to a great pub that’s going the extra mile for fans and let’s do it all again this summer. Keen? You might find our list of the best pubs for the Women’s World Cup handy.
Failing that, you can find boozers near you showing any given game with our list of all pubs showing France 2019. Just pick a fixture and search by location.