By Neil Leverett
- USA Women successfully defend World Cup crown, after beating the Netherlands 2-0 in final
- England’s Lionesses finish fourth for second tournament in a row, as Sweden win bronze medal
- VAR leaves a lingering cloud hanging over competition, after string of controversial decisions
LYON, FRANCE – After the USA secured back-to-back World Cup crowns on Sunday, what did we learn from the eighth edition of the biggest tournament in the women’s game?
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US rule the roost
After 52 matches, played over 30 days by 24 different teams in nine different ventures, the United States’ Women’s National Football team lifted the 2019 FIFA World Cup at the Stade de Lyon in France on Sunday.
Having arrived in France as defending champions, the world ranked number one side and favourites to lift the eighth World Cup, Jill Ellis’ charges completed their summer odyssey in Lyon on Sunday afternoon, beating the Netherlands 2-0 at the Stade de Lyon.
As skipper Alex Morgan held aloft the trophy, the USA claimed their fourth World Cup crown, a tag few – aside from the odd conversational VAR decision – could realistically argue, as not only the most offensively dominant side this summer, but the most stubborn to boot.
Rapinoe edges Golden Boot
On the subject of the Video Assistant Referee, Ellen White may have more than the odd resentful feeling towards the game’s newest and revolutionary introduction, despite taking home the Bronze award in France.
As the USA solidified their spot at the summit of the women’s game, Megan Rapinoe had double cause for celebration as her second half penalty against the Dutch was enough to edge out her own teammate Morgan and England’s White, for the Golden Boot.
Whilst all three ladies notched six goals in the tournament, the Reign FC forward won the top prize on count-back, due to a higher number of assists to both Morgan and White – who take home Silver and Bronze awards respectively.
It could however have been so different from a Lionesses’ perspective – both individually and collectively speaking – had White not been marginally ruled offside against the Star and Stripes, then for another call to go against the England forward, adjudged to have handled against Sweden having equalised in the Third Place play-off in Nice.
After Harry Kane had taken home last summer’s World Cup gong in the men’s game similarly on a tally of six also, White came within literal inches of mirroring the men’s national side’s talisman, but must instead console herself with third spot.
Lionesses’ tough task
Expectation was high that this current pack of Lionesses could go all the way in a World Cup a short trip across the English Channel, but once again just like in Canada four years ago, England’s women finished in the most uncelebrated of all positions possible; fourth place.
Some would say it might have been all very different had captain Steph Houghton converted her late penalty in the semi-final against the US, but another tale of woe for an England team will be the footnote of the 2019 World Cup.
The margins may be small in the eyes of many, but for the Lionesses to go and win a major trophy in their future, there still remain large strides that need to be implemented. England may have the players, but do they have the will and the fortitude to win against the toughest of opponents?
That next test will likely come in two summers time, but with World Cup runners-up the Netherlands and a Sweden side that edged England – together with a Germany team that will regroup once more – for the hosts to be crowned European Champions at Wembley Stadium in 24 months time, tweaks need to be made, but tough ones nevertheless.
Neville tenure under question
That future may well lie without the services of Head Coach Neville, who despite seeing his charges reach a second successive World Cup last four spot came under fire for his inability to adapt in different games. All that, before his rather eyebrow-raising comments of a “nonsense game” after the last weekend’s game versus Sweden.
Neville’s commitment to the job cannot be questioned, however at the end of another four-year World Cup arc, the former Manchester United defender may be looking to make a step into domestic football management.
As he told BBC Sport post-match in the south of France on Saturday:
“We came here to win it and not finish fourth. Well done to Sweden but it is a nonsense game.
What it leaves us with is that we have another 15-20% to go. This is sport. We have to come back in four years and be better.”
A home Euro 2021 could well convince the England coach to stay, but his rather matter-of-fact wordage would surely pose the question to the casual observer, whether Neville has the appetite for another qualification campaign, should other offers materialise.
VAR continues to cloud
If the US continued their sporting monopoly on the women’s game in 2019, the legacy of this summer in France unfortunately was again dominated by VAR-related controversies.
Such is its’ subjective nature, dissatisfaction has been rife across the competition. Though the hand of ‘justice’ has been felt by most of the 24 teams on show, some sides have felt its presence more pertinently than other – the Lionesses in particular could perhaps have the right to feel the most resentful.
Notwithstanding, VAR is here to stay as one of not just FIFA’s, but UEFA’s strongest directives in the wake of a cloudy period in football’s diplomatic history.
Having been implemented in most major league around the world this past season to reasonable success, the Premier League will now join the rest of the party but changes a-many still are required in the system.
There also remains a huge lack of uncertainty in rulings currently in effect, which has clouded what has been a hugely successive World Cup for not just women’s football, but for sport as a whole.
Whilst dealing a fair-edged sword to the game, there linger doubts over whether its rulings are favourable or not – case and point White’s offside call against the US, as the problems faced by VAR in a nutshell. What is certain however, is that VAR is still very much a work in progress and that it needs to far more consistent.
The 2019/20 WSL campaign begins on September 7th
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