Instead of having a summer off from football I thought it was sensible to spend a month at the Women’s World Cup. Four weeks cruising around France sounded like anything but hard work.
I was seriously questioning the wisdom of that decision as I watched Scotland manage to blow a three-goal lead and go hurtling out of the competition at the group stage. If I was feeling devastated then I can only imagine our own Erin Cuthbert’s thoughts when that whistle was blown.
Against Argentina she had another splendid game, setting up the first goal and scoring the third which should have seen Scotland through. As anyone who has watched the Chelsea Women’s team will know, Erin (pictured top) is an extraordinary footballer whose skill is matched only by her work rate and commitment. Almost all the world’s best players are at this tournament and there is no doubt that she fits comfortably in with the best of the best, even at the tender age of 20. I reckon she would walk into any international side or knowing her style, she would buzz in at 90 miles-an-hour.
Most things in the Scotland game at the Parc des Princes in Paris revolved around Erin. With Scotland 3-0 up the ball was crossed at speed, it was missed by a defender and hit Erin on the chest just two yards out. She was unlucky and couldn’t react in time to make it 4-0. Argentina immediately broke straight up the field and scored. The die was cast in that moment for Scotland.
Erin can go home now with her head held high along with Ji, whose South Korea side slipped out of the competition too. I also went to see Ji play in the first game here in Paris against France and it was clear her team-mates weren’t quite up to her standard, so she found it very difficult to have an impact. More noticeable was just how many Lyon players were in that French side with Wendie Renard and Amandine Henry both imperious. Chelsea did phenomenally well to run that Lyon side so close in the semi-final of the Champions League. In fact I reckon that Lyon team is better than the French national team first 11.
So although I have spent a good bit of time in Paris I should underline that I haven’t been lazy. I made it down to Nice for the England v Scotland game. In what turned out in the end to be a closer affair than anyone thought likely, the battle between the aforementioned Erin Cuthbert and Millie Bright was worth the admission fee alone. Millie is a good six inches taller than her Chelsea team-mate but it was a very even battle nonetheless with no quarter given or sought.
It is a strange thing when team-mates at club level have to play against each other in an international. I always look to see if either is going to go easy on their friend. In fact that rarely if ever happens. Millie and Erin didn’t hold back and in the end it led to Millie coming off injured after a tussle with her mate. Happily for Millie, England and Chelsea fans she was back and fit for the next game. With her in the Lionesses’ back line along with the likes of Lucy Bronze you have to think England can go very deep into this tournament.
Our Norwegian and Swedish players also cruised into the knockout phase and there may well be more match-ups between Chelsea players as the tournament progresses. Actually, I well remember playing for Scotland against England and my room-mate at club level was on the other side. We didn’t exchange a single word, in fact we were complete strangers to each other until the game ended and we then swapped shirts. It really is that committed for those 90 minutes, old friends become your enemy however well you know them.
So having also fitted in a game in Rennes, I am now off to Grenoble for the Round of 16 tie there with one major hope above all others on my mind. I pray that the standard of the refereeing improves as the tournament goes on. There have been some very good officials but also there have been a worryingly large number of decisions made that have been nothing short of laughable. I am a great fan of the women’s game in general and some of these types of poor decisions just never happen at the top level in the men’s game. For once I am not talking VAR or penalties, I’ll come back to that next week, but play continuing as substitutions are being made, kick-offs being taken when three of four of the opposition players are still in the wrong half celebrating the goal, and one particular offside flag going up for a player that was a good two metres onside and risibly easy to spot.
There are very good female officials out there and yes, they have a lot to contend with now that so many rules are being changed, but it does diminish the tournament a little when these things happen. This is too important to the players, to the fans and to the future of the women’s game to make it farcical in the final stages. Hopefully the best officials will stay on and it will be football and not officials that decides the ultimate destination of the trophy.
Before I head to the train station, the other intriguing thing has been to watch up and coming players from other nations that I didn’t know about. In the men’s World Cup you basically know everyone these days before a ball is kicked, footage is that easy to get a hold of. This is still not the case in the female game. There are four or five players I have spotted already that I think could make an impact for Chelsea. I better look out Emma Hayes’ phone number!