The second day of the Round of 16 was a harsh lesson in a couple of soccer truths. The US learned that sometimes ball can lie because it’s a devious sort. South Africa learned that if you don’t take advantage of the moments you have, the other team at this level will and you’ll be going home. Let’s make it happen, captain.
This tournament has been filled with underdogs that have won the hearts of neutrals, which is what has made it so fun, and certainly South Africa was one of them. It made for a more raucous atmosphere in Sydney as well, because a host of USWNT fans showed up expecting it to be where the Yanks landed in the Round of 16, only to find the Dutch and South Africa had stolen the invitations. There was no way those people were going to be cheering on Netherlands, who had helped sentence the US to being away from there, so it was almost a home game for Bayana Bayana.
South Africa’s plan wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before, one that had boxed up Italy and mailed them to Timbuktu as well as given Sweden all it could handle. They ceded the ball to the Dutch, hoping to draw them more and more forward, leaving more space for Thembi Kgatlana to romp through on the counter. South Africa was more than happy to let her go 1-on-2 or even 1-on-3 as long as there was space, and she certainly threw a fright into the Netherlands throughout the first half:
The problem is all these runs matter less when you’re already trailing 1-0, which will happen when a team defends a corner like this:
Could Jill Roord have missed this if she wanted to?
The Dutch got awfully conservative after that through the rest of the half, which only got more conservative with every time Kgatlana ran at them. But, at this very top level, if one doesn’t make the chances count, and South Africa didn’t, the opponent has someone who will make you pay. Which meant South Africa was always going to be waiting for Lieke Martens to do something like this to send Lineth Beerensteyn through:
Yes, a goalkeeping error. But one has to smile at a wily and well-versed Martens seeing Kgatlana running all over the field and then showing everyone that she can create the same chance with two touches and not even moving. Game, set, match.
So the Netherlands toddles on to face Spain, and the more direct method of attacking that the latter showed against Switzerland through Alba Redondo and Esther Gonzalez in the frontline will be a true test. Remember the Dutch were up against it versus the US when the latter belatedly got something of their act together. The Dutch will also be without Daniëlle van de Donk thanks to a suspension, and being without a first-choice central midfielder is probably not what you want when Aitana Bonmati walks out of the tunnel to play you.
Just want to see Martens’s pass again:
Speaking of van de Donk’s suspension, how is getting two yellows over four matches worthy of a suspension in a short tournament? The yellow card rule in the group stage has always been unfairly harsh and deprives teams of important players for the most crucial matches. The US had to go without Rose Lavelle against Sweden (which actually necessitated a necessary formation change, but ignore that for a moment) because of one rash challenge and one bad refereeing decision. Cards in consecutive games? Ok, could see that being worthy of a one-gamer. But two in three or especially two in four? That hardly indicates a reckless player reenacting “Falling Down.” It’s been a problem for decades and yet there’s been little to no push to change it.
Another note on Fox broadcasting: John Strong is a very good play–by–play man who probably should have been in the top spot for this tournament over JP Dellacamera’s need to fill every blank space by saying something. However, Strong’s excitement over South Africa and their performance bordered on patronizing.
It’s one thing to get excited and raise one’s voice as an announcer when Kgatlana is bursting into the box or getting a shot on goal. It’s another to do the same when she’s getting fouled out near the centerline as if he was amazed South Africa held onto the ball or fashioned anything at all. This happened a couple times throughout the match. These are pros, after all. Not everything that happens at this tournament needs to be sold to us like a carny. Just let the match breathe a bit.
Also, he’s probably doing a bit at this point, but saving your signature call of “45 minutes in the books, 45 to go!” right as we’re all getting up to take a piss at halftime is probably not the most well-timed spot to try and juice everyone up again.
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