And all of a sudden, the Women's World Cup got amazing. The two pre-tournament favorites are now out, and it's more exciting than ever.
If the only surprising result was Japan defeating Germany, that would already make this the most noteworthy quarterfinals in the history of the tournament. Perhaps too little credit is being given to Homare Sawa, and the best team in Japan's history - but Germany started and stuck with a gameplan that assumed Japan would be intimidated by superior physical play.
Fortunately for fans, the women's game has progressed to where bigger is no longer automatically better. And if Sweden (or certain other semifinalists) think this is an easier tournament because the hosts are out, well, if Japan can beat Germany, there's no reason to think they can't beat anyone. Sweden was by far the most convincing team in its quarterfinal, but they haven't played anyone of consequence yet this tournament that I can think of. They're the last undefeated team in the tournament - yes, the other three group winners choked this weekend. When it comes to this Women's World Cup, the past is NOT prologue.
France-England was the one close game where the neutral fan wasn't necessarily turned to the eventual winner. It helps that both teams are roughly a trillion times more likeable than their male counterparts, but I didn't want to see either team lose. Before this weekend, France would have been seen as the underdog against either of their semifinal opponents...now, I'm not so sure France-US isn't a straight pick 'em.
We'll have a lot of time to talk about the United States and their very inspiring performance, but let's don't forget to kick Brazil when they're down. That was an inexcusable performance for Brazil in every phase of the game, from coaching on down. The US flaws have been documented in depressing detail, and Brazil took advantage of none of them. Brazil couldn't even score until they had a player advantage...and even then, they needed an uncalled offside in order to score in the run of play.
Brazil was so horrible, they made Julie Foudy's blinkered homerism look like serious analysis. In extra time, Foudy said something to the effect of "I didn't ever think Germany would come back against Japan, but I have a really good feeling about the US in this game." Ian Darke did not reply, "For the love of Christ, Julie, do you genuinely not get the difference between being the captain of a team that's actually playing and calling the game for an international audience? If not, get the hell out of the booth so I can concentrate on the damned game without having to deal with your idiot fantasy world." But he could have.
And then Brazil all of a sudden decided that they were too good and sexy to actually cover Abby Wambach. Tie game. Ball game.
It's such a relief to have Marta out of the tournament, but that was inevitable. Year in and year out, Marta has been performance in game = 1/importance of game, and it's baffling that she's been the FIFA Player of the Year five times running. At least now it won't be a sixth. Right, international voters? RIGHT?
While I'm still in belittling mode, to my tender eyes the United States is probably the weakest, certainly the most inconsistent, semifinalist. I think France can absolutely succeed where Brazil failed. France doesn't have a lot of experience at this level, of course, but if they go up 11 on 10, they won't completely forget to look for the one open player. And they have an extra day of rest, and the US will be without a starting defender. There are no upsets left in this tournament, if in fact there were any this round.
But the United States, more than any other team, milks this underdog/come from behind/no one believes us/we play for each other nonsense. You would think the #1 ranked team in the world would occasionally deign to act like favorites, let alone play like them, but no USSF team ever takes the easy way.
And unlike Brazil, some aspects of the US game besides heart are very inspiring. Pia Sundhage took advice I read on the BigSoccer message boards - move Rampone between Buehler and LePeilbet. Rampone responded with a classic performance - it's hardly her fault that the team gave up two crummy goals assisted by the blue team.
To be fair, whoever it was who jumped early on the penalty kick - looked like LePeilbet - should have known better. But while it was a correct call, it was a stupid call. And Shannon Boxx should have kept better track of her former Sol teammate on the offside goal. You can't blame Jacqui Melksham for everything.
...no, on second thought, the red card on Buehler was insanity, and it shouldn't have been a foul, let alone a red and a penalty. At first I thought Marta had earned her second yellow. Seeing as how Buehler was, y'know, in front of Marta and had the ball. Rapinoe to Wambach saved Melksham from ruining this World Cup.
Brazil fans might complain that Carli Lloyd wasn't sent off for two yellow-cardworthy fouls, but even Marta wouldn't complain THAT much about Brazil's misfortunes in this game.
Let us now praise Hope Solo. From now until the sun goes red giant, every time Solo takes the field, let alone against Brazil, Greg Ryan will have a migraine. Saving Cristiane's penalty should have sealed the game for the United States then and there. But even more impressive was her shootout performance. Daiane's penalty was extremely well-taken; that save was no fluke.
If one feels the United States is now the tournament favorite, then it's because Solo is as good as her knee-jerk partisans (hello) have been saying all this time. And because holy cow, we're really good at penalties. All of those except Boxx's first were beautiful, and even that one needed to be Briana Scurry'd to be saved.
Poor Daiane. Although maybe now she and Adriane will learn to talk to each other in the first two minutes of a game.
Women's World Cups also tend to be more exciting and high-scoring, rather than less so, as the tournament goes on, so the next three games are totally unmissable, no matter who you cheer for.
One last hilarious note - because Sweden beat Australia, Germany will miss the Olympics next year, since UEFA was too cheap to hold separate Olympic qualifying.
Wait - one last last note. Adam Carolla hates soccer, but he has a good idea related to personal injury lawsuits that can be used for soccer. If you try to fake an injury, you should then be given the injury you tried to fake. If that rule was passed in soccer, Erika would now be walking like Gregory House. Have I mentioned how happy I am Brazil is out of this tournament?
This is the Women's World Cup that marks the official end of the idea that women play a cleaner, less violent, less cynical game than the men. It was inevitable, and from a certain point of view (read in Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice) it's a good thing - it means the stakes are high enough to make it worth cheating.
But it's going to be a difficult chore negotiating the valley from when the players go full Glanville to where we have officials capable of dealing with twenty-two people cheating all at once. The men's game hasn't made it yet, and they've been at this quite a while. We're going to have to hope that the next few tournament winners aren't decided by missed and blown calls. But, again, show me a men's tournament where that doesn't happen.