The coming game in the Women's soccer World Cup it’s the perfect recipe; Nordic practicality against an Australian team now inspired by talisman striker Sam Kerr. A full stadium on a summer’s evening by the Mediterranean. The footy codes and other big events can wait. The soccer world is in motion and there’s nothing in sport to match it.
As readers of Around the Grounds would be aware, the soccer World Cup has played an important part in my life, involving travels and adventures in Italy, Manhattan and rural France. I’ve seen great players of their time: Baggio, Valderrama, Hagi and Klinsmann. I’ve watched rival supporters stage their own competitions via national fancy dress with sombreros for the Mexicans and warrior headbands for the Koreans. There’s been numerous early morning appointments with the TV screen, with only incomparable commentators like Martin Tyler my sole companion on long, dark winter mornings.
Can the World Cup be too big?
Stretching back as far as 1982 (Italy the winners in Spain 3-1 over West Germany in the final), I’ve slowly developed a sense over the decades that things aren’t perhaps as good as they were. In 2022 the men’s finals will be in the desert of Qatar, which is hardly as appealing as Italian cities or the boulevards of Paris. And I think it’s getting too big: in 2026 the plan is to have 42 teams competing.
On a winner with the women’s World Cup
The women’s World Cup in France is, for me, trumping every other big event that’s on at the moment. That’s even before we get to the Matildas.
Yesterday Scotland was knocked out of the tournament by Argentina via a last minute penalty. Scotland and Argentina? This can only work in football. The USA has been accused of triumphalism because of their behaviour in their 13-0 win over everyone’s second favourite team, Thailand. There’s 24 teams playing in six groups. Sixteen teams progress. It all fits to scale.
This weekend all over France we have the round of 16 and, like the group stage, it evokes the very best of World Cups past. We’ve got England versus Cameroon – it’s the 1990 semi-final again. Who can forget it? Gazza’s tears, Lineker’s goals, England’s penalty heartbreak and all that. As well, France is playing Brazil, which evokes instant memories for me from the summer of 1986, watching an epic quarter final between these giants under a blazing Mexican sun (from the comfort of a cricket pavilion in southern England). Michel Platini missed a penalty on his 31st birthday but France still won the game. Some memories don’t leave you.
Also this weekend Spain play the USA and Sweden take on Canada in a far north derby. Germany face the other African team, Nigeria. The Netherlands play Japan (another beautiful clash of fan cultures) and Italy are up against China. It just works.
Set your alarms
And, of course, on Sunday morning, long before the dawn breaks, Australia face Norway in Nice. Just the sort of game that motivates you to wind the alarm clock back a few hours. An appointment too important to miss.
It’s the perfect recipe; Nordic practicality against an Australian team now inspired by talisman striker Sam Kerr. A full stadium on a summer’s evening by the Mediterranean. The footy codes and other big events can wait. The soccer world is in motion and there’s nothing in sport to match it.