WC Countdown: Group F – Thailand

Next up in group F is no other than Thailand!

It was only back in 2015 that Thailand made it to their first World Cup, and their first run at it was not the most successful, as they had to say goodbye after the group stages. The team, also nicknamed Chaba Kaew, qualified for France after making it to the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, where they ended up finishing fourth – their best result in 32 years. Thailand began the tournament by losing out 4-0 to China, but then they won against Jordan and the Philippines to make it through to the last four, where they tied 2-2 with Australia and only just missed out on the final after losing on penalties. In the game for the third place they came up against China again and lost, this time 3-1.

Kanjana Sungngoen is one of the most important names in the squad, having secured their qualification for the 2015 edition of the tournament with two crucial goals against Vietnam. The forward was also a very important puzzle piece for Thailand’s qualification this time around, and she contributed with three goals at the Women’s Asian Cup. Sungngoen is extremely fast, and her movements on the pitch are at times undetectable, as she seems to move without moving. Another crucial name in the squad is Rattikan Thongsombut, the midfielder with a high work rate who is used to putting in a shift on the midfield as well as scoring goals. She scored against Australia in the semifinal of the Women’s Asian Cup and her goal would’ve taken them through, had it not been for the Matildas’ 91st-minute equalizer.

Thailand women's national football team
Celebrating their qualification, source

Coach Nuengruethai Sathongwien is one of only nine female coaches going to the World Cup this summer. She has already coached the team once, leading them to their first ever appearance at a World Cup in 2015, as well as their first win in the tournament when they beat Ivory Coast 3-2. She then left the position but returned in October 2017 and has managed to repeat the feat of qualifying her team for the finals. She doesn’t seem to have a consistent style in her choice of formation but rather prefers to mix it up in the months leading to the tournament. A 4-2-3-1, as well as a 4-4-2, has seemed to be working well for the team so far.

In June last year, they played the AFF Women’s Championship, where they mopped the floor with opponents like Cambodia and Malaysia, and they even beat Australia twice. They also played the Women’s Asian Games but ended up losing all three games. In Thailand’s first time participating at the Cyprus Women’s Cup, that is a warm-up tournament in the spring ahead of the tournament involving teams from all over the world, they only managed to win against Hungary but lost out to Mexico, Italy and Nigeria. Thereafter they played friendlies against France and Belgium, which they both lost.

That’s a roundup on Thailand, the second team in group F. They’ve got quite a tough lot to go up against, with the likes of the USA and Sweden battling it out for a first place in the group. Do you believe that Thailand could upset any of these teams? Leave a comment below!

From Hysterical Fernando Torres Girl To Occasional Football Freakout Woman

This is a story of my transition into womanhood which, as we know in part thanks to Britney Spears and our own experiences, can be quite confusing, and it’s easy to feel ‘caught in the middle’.

I grew up as a football fan. My formative years, my teenage years, were strongly influenced by the identity of being a football fan, and it has brought me so much, but there’s also so much that I know now, that I wish I knew back then. For example, the number of times I compromised myself because I didn’t know better, because I wanted to fit in and be ‘one of the guys’, and I thought that being told that ‘you’re not like other girls’ was a good thing (ugh). Thankfully now I know better, through experience and meeting wise people I’ve realised that I want to be JUST like other girls because we are fantastic, and the term was coined in an attempt to alienate women from each other, as we’re too powerful together. I’ve learned that I’m allowed to take up space, I’m allowed to let my female self flourish also in an inherently male space, without having to conform to masculine ways. I don’t need to adopt an exterior that makes me pass as a “valid” football fan but instead, I can be the flawed, bad football fan that I am.

Everything that I knew about what it means being a girl, becoming a woman, I learned through the lens of football fandom

But all of these lessons came with a price. Everything that I knew about what it means being a girl, becoming a woman, I learned through the lens of football fandom, and occupying these male spaces on a daily basis … it was exhausting. Beautiful, but exhausting. There were so many times I felt alone, ruthlessly alone. As I’m sure most women can sign on, being a female football fan is difficult, as we encounter so many issues men simply don’t understand – I wrote about some of them here.

Emma with Torres shirt on
So proud over my first shirt

There was one man that introduced me to the world of fandom and came to define those years. This man is Fernando Torres. As I was entering my teenage years, I had Torres there accompanying me. From buying my first football top (his Spain shirt, on a trip to Greece) and plastering my room with posters of his face, the topic of Torres also acted as a great bonding topic for two shy and alone football fangirls, equipping me with a life-long friend. I had my first kiss at a football tournament I was playing abroad. I had Torres’ name on my graduation hat. Being a football fan gave me an identity, something that I, like most young people, was desperate for.

But he was actually not the one that introduced me to methodically follow football on an international club level, that was the making of Rafael Van der Vaart and that, my dear friends, is why I’m not a Liverpool or a Chelsea fan, but ended up supporting a fantastic club called Tottenham Hotspur (I definitely feel like it was meant to be).

Tottenham cap on the ready!
Reppin’ Tottenham in Madrid

You could say that Van der Vaart took over from Torres, who in many ways was a girl’s mega-crush whereas VDV brought me a level deeper. He wooed me with his fantastic technique, passion and endless grit at the World Cup 2010 and afterwards left me wanting more, so I started following his progress in his new team, and I fell hopelessly in love with Tottenham, their style of play (Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Van der Vaart all together, I mean …) and the history of the club, and as VDV left the club, going back to his old club Hamburg SV, I followed. I started watching Bundesliga and HSV on a more regular basis, admiring the special style of play in the German top league. This ultimately led to me moving to Germany a month after finishing high school, fully immersing myself in German football and culture. Two and a half years later, as it was time for me to break toxic routes, an opportunity opened up for me in Madrid and coincidentally it was (allegedly) Torres’ last season in Atletico Madrid.

This led to me packing my bags and heading to Spain without a second thought, as it was an amazing opportunity to get to see him play on home soil, at the club that he loves the most. By now I was, although still finding myself, more comfortable in who I was, and my extreme, hysterical fangirl-self only broke out occasionally, like the time that I got to actually be face to face with him, only centimetres separating us, and we actually exchanged words! And he signed my shirt! It was the ultimate fangirl moment.

Fernando Torres signed shirt
Don’t know if you can tell that I was happy here?

In one sense my Torres-fandom came full circle the moment our eyes met. By this time I had been in a few mixed zones and already had my ‘omg-footballers-are-actually-normal-deadly-people’ moment, but it was something different locking eyes with my first ever footballing hero. It solidified a moment in time in which, looking back, something shifted in me, and I knew it was time to do something about my dreams. It was like a chain reaction; as one dream came true (me meeting Torres), my other dreams wanted to be fulfilled as well and as a result of that, things started to move slowly but surely.

When Lucas Moura scored that vital winner in the 96th minute I literally peed myself I was screaming so hard

I’m no longer hysterical over Torres (only when he posts nice things on Instagram), and I don’t sit and sob in the sofa after Tottenham has lost a Premier League game (yes, there’s actual footage of this) but there are undoubtedly moments when those strong feelings still overwhelm me and have to come out somehow. The second leg of the semifinal between Ajax – Tottenham was certainly one of those times. When Lucas Moura scored that vital winner in the 96th minute I literally peed myself I was screaming so hard, and the redness in my face was at a dangerously high level. But none of that mattered because my team were going through to the Champions League final for the first time! In Madrid, on June 1st another circle will close, as I’ve been blessed to see my team work so hard throughout the season and fulfil every Spurs fan’s dream, and I’ll be watching, ready to freak out no matter how it goes and continue to chase those dreams.

WC Countdown: Group E – Cameroon

After Canada in group E, our second team out is Cameroon.

The Indomitable Lionesses as they are called are returning to the world stage after their first World Cup endeavour back in 2015, where they beat Ecuador and Switzerland and lost to Japan in the group stages. They were allowed to advance to the last 16, where they were kicked out by China. This time around they’re up to similar tough opponents in their group, facing Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand.

Cameroon’s road to qualification in the Africa Women Cup of Nation was quite straightforward. They flew through the group stages, breezing by Mali and Algeria and drawing with Ghana before being halted on their way by Nigeria, who have stood in their way in the two previous Cup of Nation editions. The game ended 0-0 and had to go to penalties, where Nigeria won. Cameroon then had to go up against Mali again for the third place spot and the last qualification spot, which they claimed with a 4-2 victory.

Gabrielle Onguene is one of the big names in the team. She showed what she’s made of at the 2015 World Cup and with a great performance, she managed to help her team through to the last 16. The attacking midfielder has grown into a top name in African football and contributed two goals on their road to qualification. Christine Manie is another name to remember. She has been the one sending the team to the World Cup on both of the occasions that they’ve qualified, thanks to crucial goals scored in overtime, against the Ivory Coast back in 2014 and then again against Mali in 2018. She also contributed Cameroon’s only goal in their 1-1 draw with Ghana which, for a defender is pretty good.

Cameroon women's national team
The lionesses in a huddle. Source

Alain Djeumfa coaches the senior side, after taking over from Joseph Ndoko. Djeumfa, former fitness coach in the team, had to step in as manager in January 2019, after Ndoko had already led the team through the qualifying stages. It is not the first team that Djeumfa has coached, as he’s been with several top-flight clubs before, and on top of that, he’ll not be alone in France, as he’ll be assisted by the former Cameroon captain Bernadette Anong.

Djeumfa has not really had much time to implement his own playing style on the team just yet, and it does not get easier as the Cameroon football association, Fecafoot, have difficulties prioritising and setting up friendlies for the Lionesses to give them enough time to prepare ahead of the World Cup.

“The girls haven’t been consistent in their preparation. Training should’ve started a long time ago, not now. There should’ve been more friendlies. Look at Nigeria and South Africa, they have played several international matches and now both sides are in the Cyprus Cup. We have to do better.

“The Lionesses have a good coach in Alain Djeumfa but things aren’t made easy for him. The women’s league hasn’t started and it’s difficult for him to scout for players.

“We have to be pragmatic. I fear with such poor preparation we may have a poor output in France,” Victorine Fomum, former footballer turned analyst, said to BBC Sport.

After a winter and early spring without many signs of friendlies, the Lionesses managed to get to China and play the inaugural Wuhan International Tournament. The four teams in the tournament were China, who won, Cameroon, who finished runners up, Croatia and Russia. Cameroon ended up playing one game against Croatia, which they won, that in turn advanced them to the final against China, which was a 1-0 loss.

That’s a bit on Cameroon! Going into their second World Cup, they’ll be looking to better their results of ending up in the last 16. Can they make it? Let us know in the comment section below.

WC Countdown: Group E – Canada

Onto the second to last group and first up in group E is Canada.

Canada has worked their way onto the international stage and slowly but surely gained recognition as a tough team to beat. They lost out on the third place to the USA at the World Cup 2003 and made it to the quarter-finals of their first Olympic women’s football tournament in 2008. They’ve won bronze at the Olympics twice, in 2012 and 2016, and they hosted the World Cup back in 2015, getting kicked out in the quarter-final against England. Canada started off the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the qualification tournament to the World Cup, by beating Jamaica 2-0. They then went on to beat Cuba 12-0, Costa Rica 3-1 and Panama 7-0, before coming up against the hosts and world champions USA, to whom they lost 0-2.

The biggest name in the Canadian team is without a doubt Cristine Sinclair, who has made a huge mark on the team and has ensured that she will always be remembered fondly by the Canadians. The current captain of the side is the top scorer for her country (of all time!), who also has the most assists and most caps of any Canadian player. The forward who is now 35 years old is still in her prime, scoring four goals in five games throughout the qualification tournament, and she scored a wonderful hattrick for her club in a 4-4 thriller just the other day. This will be the fifth World Cup that she takes part in. Other players that were on a good scoring streak during the qualification process were Adriana Leon, who scored a whopping six goals in the four games she took part in. 17-year-old Jordyn Huitema scored another four goals in three games, and Nichelle Prince contributed with three goals in four games. Stephanie Labbe is the experienced goalkeeper but 23-year-old Kailen Sheridan got some time between the sticks in the qualification process and is an exciting prospect.

Canada women's soccer team
Fans together with their soccer team. Source.

Kenneth Heiner-Møller is the head coach for the Canadian side and the Danish coach has been with the team since 2015 when he was the assistant coach, before becoming head coach in 2018. He led the Danish women’s national football team to the 2007 World Cup in China, where he and his players accused the Chinese team, whom they were going up against, of harassment as well as covert surveillance. The Swedish coaching team, Marika Domanski-Lyfors and Pia Sundhage, did not know anything about it and Heiner-Møller exonerated them but refused to shake hands after the game. With the Canadian team, he’s not had a lot of time to achieve things just yet, but he got them to the World Cup 2019.

Møller has chosen to go with a few different formations, not being afraid to rotate and continuously changing things up, which can be seen as a healthy sign for a developing squad. The main two formations that the Danish coach has chosen to play with are the 4-2-3-1 and 3-1-4-2, sometimes switching it up with a 4-3-3.

The Canadian side has played a few games during the spring, going to Portugal for the Algarve Cup where they came up against a few strong sides. They drew 0-0 with Iceland, they earned a hard-fought win over Scotland 1-0 and in the third place match between Canada and Sweden, the North American side came out the stronger one after winning on penalties.

That’s some information about Canada, one of the strong teams in group E. Do you believe they will make it out of their group? Let us know below in the comment section!

Five Lessons Goalkeeping Taught Me As a Female Football Fan

The first time I had to go in goals as an adult was at a futsal tournament with my university team and I was too hungover to run, so after 20 minutes I told my coach that I needed to go in goals or I would not make it. Which ended up being quite the successful initiative, and as my new team were looking for a goalkeeper I volunteered. One year into this journey I am loving my new position and enjoying myself thoroughly.

Along the way, I have evolved so much, obviously as a player, going from playing as a left wing for the better part of a decade to going in between the sticks, but also as a person and a female football fan. I was opened up to a whole new perspective, being positioned at the end of the pitch, and it forced me to view the game and my role in it in a totally different way. That, in turn, opened up to new views on my life, my fandom and my role in it, as well as how I want to practice it going forward.

The lessons that I’ve taken from goalkeeping are applicable in the game as well as in life:

1. Don’t Be Afraid

Fear limits you! This is the first rule, which is very applicable to the goalkeeper life (I mean, you are voluntarily stepping in as the last person between the striker and the goal) but it’s also a fundamental realisation that has huge impact on your life. I used to be so afraid; afraid of doing anything wrong, being wrong, fucking up – but what you have to realise is this: as a goalkeeper you are going to make mistakes and let in goals. Fact is, you’ll probably let in more goals than you keep out, and you have to be okay with that, it’s just part of it and you’ll learn from every mistake in order to be able to keep more goals out.

Same goes for life, where many people stay in their comfort zones and rarely makes mistakes. It’s comfortable but that’s not where the magic happens. What if I’d been too afraid to devote myself to Tottenham, my football team, because I was put off by the scrutiny present in the football community?

2. Be Demanding

As the person furthest back on the pitch, you have a unique view that no one else as, and you have to use that to help your team and guide your defence, who do not have the same advantage as you. That means that sometimes you will have to be very demanding and steer them to where you need them to be, which in turn means that you have to trust yourself to have the view and the skills necessary for it.

Also in life, you have to take command of your own ship and demand more of yourself, trusting yourself to know what is best for you. That includes knowing that you belong in a space (for example, a pub or a football stadium) even when the people around you make you feel otherwise.

3. Ask For It

This one is vital. In order to get anything you want – that promotion at work, the cute person you’ve been eyeing for a while, or the ball in the game, you’re gonna have to ask for it. In order to receive the ball in a position where you know that you can do something with it, where you set the tone, you’re going to have to ask your teammates to pass it to you. That way you take charge of the game, and the same rules apply to anything that you want – no one is just going to hand it to you. It’s yours for the taking!

4. Take Up Space

If you take up more physical space in the goal, the goal shrinks and significantly minimises the target for the striker trying to score on you. It makes a lot of sense when you look at it from the striker’s point of view, but when you’re in that goal it can feel counterintuitive to charge out towards a player that is running towards you full speed with the ball, but that’s what you have to do. Same in life, it can really scary, but it’s difficult to give opportunities to people that you do not know are there because they’re not taking up any space.

Note, it’s not just about taking up the space – you have to believe that you’re allowed to actually take up the space, and that you’re not just there because of luck or because someone wanted to be kind to you. The notion of being allowed to take up space is a belief that is hard for women, in my experience. I certainly struggle with it a lot. As women, we’re taught, from a young age, that ‘girls sit down and obey’ whereas the boys are rowdy and taking up space. Well, it’s time to change that and as adults we can lead by example.#GetBig as Karen Bardsley always says.

5. Use Your Voice

Your defence won’t know what it is that you want or need from them if you do not tell them. It’s worth repeating: as the goalkeeper you have the most special view on the pitch. There will be times when you’ll come from behind and your defenders won’t see you and you’re all just so focused on clearing the ball that, without the communication, it’ll most likely turn into a big mess.

It is equally as important to use your voice in life because you have a unique take on life just like everyone else, and you have to learn to speak up, for others but most of all for yourself. Especially in my fandom this has been a useful tool to gain, as I’ve come to understand that few people are willing to speak up for female football fans, in general in the media, but also when you’re in the pub/at the stadium alone. And nowadays there are so many amazing female football collectives and fans emerging, and recommending people to follow them is a great use of the voice, for example.

Also, remember to be kind, to yourself and to others, it goes a long way. And don’t compare your chapter three to someone else’s chapter 20.

WC Countdown: Group D – Japan

Last – but definitely not least – in group D we have Japan.

This is a team with a long history in the game and they are the most successful women’s national team in the Asian Football Confederation. They’ve been fierce competitors in Asia for quite some time but in 2011 they took the world by storm when they went and won the Women’s World Cup 2011, beating the USA in the final to become only the fourth women’s world champions. Then they went and won silver at the World Cup 2015, this time losing to the Americans. This year they won both the Asian Games and the Asian Women’s Cup, which also served as the qualification route for the World Cup. In the process, they beat Vietnam and China, drew with Korea and Australia, only to end up against the Aussie’s again in the final, beating them 1-0.

Japan has a very young team and many of their World Cup-winning squad has retired in the past few years, leaving coach Asako Takakura-Takemoto to try and find a new team setup. Legends like Homare Sawa – who captained the side to their 2011 WC gold and 2012 Olympics silver -, Aya Miyama, Shinobu Ohno and Yūki Nagasato were all part of those glorious years in which the team erupted on the world stage. But now it is up to this young side to keep up with the legacy that the previous generation set up.

Nadeshiko win World Cup 2011
Nadeshiko celebrating their 2011 World Cup win. Source

A player that is still young but has vast experience of international football due to having played in the national team since she was 17, is Mana Iwabuchi. She bloomed out on the international scene as a 15-year-old, representing her country at the inaugural U-17 World Cup, and this is going to be the forward’s third senior World Cup, having won gold back in 2011 and silver in 2015, and she’s one of the integral cogs in Japan’s machinery, and she scored two of the goals en route to Japan’s WC qualification. Kumo Yokoyama is another important goalscorer and contributed four goals in four games at the Asian Cup. Yuka Momik scored two goals in three games at the SheBelieves cup for Japan, and Yui Hasegawa got on the scoresheet as well.

Another experienced and important player in the pursuit of glory is Rumi Utsugi. The 30 -year-old has already participated in three World Cups with Nadeshiko and she is a strong presence and serves as a reminder to the young players of the previous generation and their feats. In an interview with FIFA she commented on the impact that their 2011 World Cup win has had in Japan:

“Before 2011, we had a much smaller population of women who played football in Japan. But since our victory in 2011, we have more players aspiring to become professional or just to play football for fun. I’m so pleased that the women’s football population has grown so dramatically in Japan since then.”

The Japanese style is typically centred on organisation and intelligent movement, so we’ll try and combine those with creative ideas and fresh thinking, which are especially evident in the younger players in our squad. These should be our strengths and I hope we’ll be able to demonstrate them in our team play,” she continues.

Head coach Takakura-Takemoto took over the Nadeshiko squad back in 2016, succeeding the legendary Norio Sasaki. It’s a difficult stepping into such big shoes, but Takakura-Takemoto has done a very good job so far. She used to represent Japan herself, before becoming a coach for various Japan national youth teams, with her most notable achievement being the gold at the 2014 U-17 World Cup. Since she has embraced her role as coach for the senior team she has led the side to gold at the Asian Cup and at the Asian games. Takakura-Takemoto favours a 4-4-2 formation and rarely switches it up, except for when she employs a 4-4-1-1, letting one of the strikers drop.

Japan took part in the SheBelieves Cup in March, drawing against the hosts the USA (2-2) and beating Brazil 3-1 before losing, in what was considered to be the ‘final’, 0-3 against England who went on and won the tournament. It was a torn performance from the young Japanese side and the overall expectation was that they would do better, looking lost at times. Since then they’ve played France and Germany in two friendlies, losing to the French 3-1 and drawing 2-2 with the Germans.

That’s a wrap on the last team out in group D, the most technically difficult out of the six groups looking at the official FIFA-rankings of the teams (Scotland ranked 20, England ranked 4, Argentina ranked 36 and Japan ranked 8), landing on an average of 17. It remains to be seen how this group plays out. Do you think that Japan makes it out of the group? Let us know in the comments below!

WC Countdown: Group D – Argentina

The next team out in group D is no other than Argentina.

It is a triumphant return to the international scene for the Argentinians, who last participated in the 2007 World Cup in China, 12 years ago, and which they’ve only participated in twice –  never managing to get out of the group stage. It has been a tough road to get to France for this team, and not solemnly from a qualification-route point of view. Only last month did the country finally decide to make the women’s league professional (by no means on the same level as the men’s, but still) after a lot of fighting, from the national team in general who went on a strike for equality  last year and were seen posing cupping their ears (‘is anyone listening?’), a photo which went viral at the Copa América and the issue finally got some recognition. Furthermore, players like Macarena Sánchez have played a huge role and they’ve used social media to draw attention to the fact that female football players in Argentina get very little to no help from their clubs or their national team whatsoever, whether that regards training clothes, food or treatment for injured players.

On their way to qualification, they played in the Copa América Femenina and they beat Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, but lost to Brazil twice and then to Chile, causing them to end up in third place. This, in turn, caused them to face a play-off in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL and they had to play Panama over two legs, winning 4-0 and drawing 1-1, and qualifying them for the World Cup.

Estefania Banini is captain of the team and the midfielder is dangerous in front of the goal as well as from outside the area. The 28-year-old, who is an important cog in the Argentinian set-up, scored three goals in seven games at the Copa América. Another important cog is the forward Soledad Jaimes, who scored five goals in the seven Copa América games, and who has just signed for one of the biggest football clubs in women’s football. Florencia Bonsegundo and Mariana Larroquette are two other attacking options with a record of scoring goals. Another, more unbacked goalscorer is Eliana Stabile, who is a defender but scored two vital goals in the playoffs.

Belén Potassa two-time goalscorer
Belén Potassa scored twice for Argentina against CSN Lady Coyotes Soccer. Picture source.

The coach of the team is Carlos Borrello, who first took over the team back in 2003 and managed them until 2012, when he was replaced by Luis Nicosia, after having led the team to their first two World Cups as well as their only title, the 2006 Copa América win. But in 2017 he returned and got to guide his team to yet another World Cup qualification. The coach has tried out a few different formations, but one that seems pretty constant is the 4-2-3-1.

Argentina participated in the Cup of Nations back in March, that took place in Australia, but the team lost all three games against New Zealand, South Korea and Australia with big goal margins and failing to score a single goal.

“Coming here is our preparation (for World Cup) and our players are trying to experience top-level matches playing against good teams,” Borrello said.

“We have to look beyond the final result because we are trying to get experience for our players.

“We are far away from the best teams, we know that but it’s a long way and we know that, it’s just the beginning.”

That’s a roundup on the South American team, that has been placed in a very tough group – going up against Scotland, England and Japan. It remains to be seen whether this team can surprise everybody and turn this group on its head. Let us know what you think in the comments below!