Saturday, 9 July 2011

Not Penalties Again

It’s a feeling I’ve felt many summers, the disappointment complimented by a frustrating sense of inevitability. It’s the feeling of watching an England football team crash out of a major international tournament after showing some initial promise. I’m just used to the feeling being limited to years ending in an even number. But this evening I watched as the England Women’s team took on France in the quarter finals of the world cup and lost. On penalties.

It was a spirited performance by England, but in the end, as is so often the case with the men’s team, deep down most fans will know they were beaten by a superior team. The French side passed the ball better, controlled possession and created many more chances than their English counterparts. But in that stereotypically English style, it was a plucky and determined performance, one which for the majority of the second half looked like it would earn us a place in the semi-finals.

It wasn’t to be and an 88th minute equaliser caused the game to extra time, where tired, cramping legs were forced to keep going, with striker Kelly Smith hobbling around the pitch with an injury which would have meant the end of her game had boss Hope Powell not already used all three substitutes. The half hour ticked by and we were faced with English football’s nemesis, the penalty shootout.

It started nicely enough with the French player missing the first penalty and Smith stepping up to ignore the pain and hammer the ball into the corner of the net before celebrating in true Stuart Pearce style with pumped fists and veins popping. From then on though the French penalties were assured and when England captain Faye White missed the 5th penalty the game was lost, 1-1 after normal time and 4-3 on penalties.

The result is a shame because throughout the tournament there have been real moments of quality from some of the England players, with Smith, Ellen White, Karen Carney and Jill Scott all looking impressive. Sadly however they seem to, as a team, suffer from the same irritating tendency to panic in big games and lose any kind of passing rhythm or accuracy.

The bigger shame however is that the BBC really didn’t take advantage of having the rights to this Women’s World Cup, only screening the England matches (apart from the final which will be on BBC3 a week on Sunday) and they were shown via the red button, buried away where no one might accidentally stumble across them. The BBC had the opportunity to really make a statement about the rising profile of the women’s game, putting the England games on BBC 1 or 2 and I believe they should also have organised a nightly highlights show somewhere amongst their schedule, allowing fans to see not just England’s team, but also the standard of football produced by Germany, Brazil, Sweden and the U.S. They’ve dropped the ball by choosing to go for a bare minimum of coverage and hiding what little they did commit to.

Women’s football in the U.K is growing, with increased investment, a re-organised Premier league and a fully fledged Champions League to aspire to compete in, but TV coverage needs to increase hand in hand with the growing stature of the game, because it is through bringing the game to a wider audience and exposing more people to the fact that the standard is getting better and better, that more girls will start playing football for school teams and getting signed up for clubs, thus strengthening both the profile of the sport and the National team.

Canada have been chosen to host the 2015 World Cup, but I really hope England apply to host one soon, because International quality Women’s football being played in stadium’s around the country could be just what is needed to really bring the Women’s game closer to the Men’s in terms of attention and acceptance. It’s unlikely to get anywhere close within my lifetime perhaps, but I see no reason why in the next few years it couldn’t become a valued sister to the Men’s game, where during World Cups and European Championships games are shown in prime time slots on major channels, where newspaper and internet coverage is much more extensive and where a number of England’s star players become well known names.

Today's song is one I've not listened to in ages, but as with other songs that I've posted before, I stumbled across it while listening to a playlist I made on iTunes several months ago. It's called "Hell" and is by 'Tegan and Sara'.

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