Winnipeg saw everything from the sublime to the surreal today. From utter dominance to a circus sideshow complete with inept officiating, a pitch invader and the Chinese manager being sent to the stands, there was something for everyone. Unfortunately at the end of the night it came at New Zealand’s expense who now exit the competition controversially but hey, this is FIFA, what else would you expect?
There was never any question that the #1 ranked Germany would beat the #29 ranked Thailand. The only real question was by how much? Having advanced to the knockout stage from their group before this match even kicked off, this was little more than a training exercise for the Germans.
From the opening whistle it was all Germany. They controlled the possession and the tempo of the match, initiating wave after wave of attack on Thailand. Through the first 20 minutes the only time Thailand got the ball across half was on a couple of goal kicks only to lose possession immediately. The Thai goalkeeper deserves praise for an admirable performance, for much of the game she looked to be the only Thai player on the field and made a number of great saves to maintain Thailand’s dignity on the scoreboard.
Germany finally broke through the wall in the 23rd minute with a great header from a corner kick finding the back of the net. Never shifting out of first gear but utilizing a wide range of attacks through the middle, down the flanks and in the air Germany took only the single goal into the half-time break. It looked as if the Germans used the first half as an extended pregame warm-up and the best was yet to come.
Half Time: Germany 1 – Thailand 0
The second started much like the first with Germany taking immediate control and never relinquishing it. For ten minutes the Thai goalkeeper was peppered with shots, had it not been for her, the German’s would easily be approaching a double digit scoreline by that point.
Finally the German Air Force was released scoring headers in the 56th and 58th minutes, from a cross and corner kick respectively. In the 73rd minute they put in their 4th and final goal of the match. Again, initiated from a cross down the right flank and worked across the goal for an easy open net tap in.
The stats don’t lie Germany had 36 shots of which 16 were on target. This compares to Thailand’s 2 shots, none of which were on target. Factor 14-2 corner kicks and 65%-35% possession for the Germans and you begin to get a picture of just how dominant they were. It’s either a miracle or mercy that Germany only won 4-0.
Some might argue there’s little joy in watching a team get dominated to that extent but for those who eat, sleep and breath the game, it’s not about the result or the emotional response it elicits rather it’s about admiration and respect for the quality of technical and tactical play on the pitch. Germany put on a world class, sublime performance unmatched by any other in this tournament to date. Their play is always controlled and silky smooth while others are erratic and sometimes chaotic displaying everything from the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Having had the pleasure of watching #2 ranked and tournament favorites in many circles, the USA play twice I am left wondering who can possibly match this German side. Can we not simply crown Germany the champions now? Because if the USA is second best in the world, they have a long way to go before coming close to matching the quality of this German side.
New Zealand vs China
And now on to the surreal. This was a huge match for both sides, New Zealand needing a win to advance while China only needed the draw. An army of Chinese supporters in red set the pre-match mood in full voice taking over the north stand of Winnipeg Stadium, territory the American Outlaws occupied for the two match days prior.
China started very strong creating a great scoring chance off a header in the opening five minutes but by the 12th minute they had dropped into a defensive formation looking to play on the counter attack much like they did against Canada. On the counter, China lacked directness and were much too slow getting forward, they wasted a couple of great opportunities when they finally did penetrate New Zealand’s final third.
By the 25th minute New Zealand was taking control of the match, creating opportunities and despite wasting a few they found the back of the net from a corner kick for the opening goal of the match in the 27th minute.
China managed to regain composure and make it a tight, back and forth affair until the 40th minute when the surreal began. The official awarded a Penalty Kick to China for a New Zealand handball but replays clearly show there was absolutely no contact with the players hand. China converted and leveled 1-1. New Zealand was the better team in the half and would be disappointed by their misfortune having lost their lead going into the break.
Half Time: New Zealand 1 – China 1
Perhaps fueled by misfortune, New Zealand started the second half strong putting pressure on the Chinese force them to defend deep in their half.
Once again, after absorbing the opening 10 minutes of pressure the Chinese regain composure and enjoy a spell as the better team leading to a 60th minute goal to take the lead 2-1.
The Kiwi’s fully aware of what they needed for advancement pulled up their socks and immediately answered back with goal of their own drawing level 2-2 in the 63rd minute. From that point on, New Zealand took firm control of the match. They did well in possession and recovered quickly when out of it and utilized the flanks of the pitch very well to penetrate the Chinese final third in waves of attack. It was clear the Chinese were happy with a draw and got all eleven players behind the ball, centrally packing the 18 yard box. They were content to allow New Zealand acres of space on the flanks while crowding out the middle; a dangerous game management tactic given the height advantage and superior aerial ability of the Kiwi’s.
The final ten minutes saw the good, the bad and the ugly. The good, at either end of the pitch, both teams were denied great scoring opportunities by equally great defensive efforts. The bad (although most had a good laugh at it), a pitch invader jumped onto the field from the north stand and had a decent run out, feinting 4-5 security personnel before being caught. I was hoping for a bone crunching tackle but I guess Canadian’s are just too polite and the pitch invader was delicately restrained and escorted away. The ugly, the Chinese employed every time wasting tactic in the book from fake injuries, rehabbing on field, to delayed restarts on throw-ins and kicks. It all finally culminated in a disgraceful display when the Chinese manager was sent to the stands for knocking the ball away from a New Zealand player and then obstructing and bumping her while her attempted a throw-in. To top it off, the Chinese manager waved and prompted the crowd for applause as if he’d done something noble! I hope FIFA takes a good look at this and extends his stay in the stands for the next game at minimum.
Like I said, this day in Winnipeg had it all from the sublime German’s to the surreal antics of the Chinese and officiating. In the end, China claims 2nd place in Group A and advances to the knockout stage while New Zealand’s tournament comes to a sad an undeserving end.