Women’s football changes pace: it is more physical, tactics have improved and there are more coaches in charge | Women’s Soccer World Cup 2023

The United States lacked a millimeter for the last penalty to be a goal, so as not to lose out against Sweden prematurely and accept that the hegemony of the ball was no longer theirs. Germany, another candidate, hit the ground face down, a memorable trigger in the group stage. Canada, Olympic champion, barely said a word, a condemnation that Brazil also took. They are all home now. Except for Spain and England, who will face each other in the World Cup final. Women’s football has changed the pace: there are no longer artificial turf fields or gaps in the coaching staff; the prizes assigned by FIFA are 168 million for the federations, a figure multiplied exponentially if they attend the 45 in 2019 or the 23 in 2015. Another step for the sport, already professional and globalized, with a rhythm of play who has equated the teams without paying attention to their short heraldry. José Luis Sánchez Vera, Levante women’s coach, Patricia Campos, one of the first women to lead a professional women’s team in the United States, Lluís Cortés, a former Barça and Ukraine coach, and Vero Boquete, a former international and now with her boots on Fiorentina, explain the change.

More physical, more rhythm. FIFA published a study after the 2019 World Cup in which it explained that in four years the ball ran 11% faster while the soccer players covered 15% more average distance in matches. It will be necessary to see the new report when Spain or England are crowned, but everything indicates that the records continue to rise, a consequence of the professionalism demanded by the international organization and by the will of the federations. “The big difference between football before and now is that physical condition has improved a lot,” says Cortés. “The teams are physically better and that has an impact on a better ball hit, faster and more precise,” says Campos. “If you compare a photo of any team today with that of a few years ago, you can see a brutal physical change. The constitution has changed a lot, as well as the preparation, and that makes it possible to play in fewer meters and everything happens faster, ”solves Sánchez Vera. “It is that we have gone from training three days at nine at night to doing it every day in the morning, to having all the staff what is needed to be at the highest level, people who give you a plus on a physical level… That makes the level higher each time and the preparation better”, adds Boquete. A clear example was in the semifinal, when Spain faced Sweden, as they always paled physically and in New Zealand they played one-on-one to later win with the ball between their feet.

It fails tactically. In the previous World Cup, the United States destroyed Thailand (13-0) and FIFA sent the message that the federations should invest in women’s football, take the competition to another level. Although there have also been resounding wins in this tournament, none like the 7-0 from the Netherlands to Vietnam, it has been seen that anyone can put the great powers in trouble. All the favorites have already fallen, some sooner than others, with the exception of England, current European champions, and Spain, which was showing signs but had never gotten past a tie in a major tournament. “The distance from the big teams, who used to be way above the rest, are much shorter. Everything has evened out and a surprising picture has remained ”, reflects Cortés. “Germany and the United States, also the Nordic countries, had dominated during these years because there was a great physical and professional difference,” adds Boquete. But there has also been a tactical turn.

“A decade ago, the physique was the differential aspect, the great teams had a coaching staff, nutritionists, everything. And the rest, who did not have access to these media, presented lower profiles. Now, with everyone equal in this section, it has been seen that the tactical-technical part makes the difference”, says Sánchez Vera. “When the physical difference is reduced, what remains is real football”, remarks Boquete. Campos elaborates: “Germany had too much confidence in itself. He has not contributed anything new from what was seen in the Eurocup, he has lacked creativity and knowing how to attack low blocks. The same as the United States, which is not used to playing against European teams, its footballers have noticed this deficiency a lot”. Cortés adds: “It is that the United States always won and much of their success was due to their physical condition. But they, like Germany and Brazil, who have talent and physical preparation, have lacked a clearer collective proposal. They have failed to understand the game and have a plan B in case A did not work ”. Lineth Beerensteyn, winger from the Netherlands went further: “From the beginning they said they were going to reach the final, their mouths were too big. You have to play before you talk.”

Not so small selections. All the African teams (Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco) reached the round of 16, as did Jamaica from the Caribbean, in the same way that Colombia, a South American team without the cachet of Brazil, went up a step as did Australia, semifinalist from the ocean. “Banini, an Argentine player, said at the end of her World Cup that they would continue fighting, that as a federation they had grown, but that the rest had done so more. And many have done it because it has been seen that the theoretical small teams have taken a big step”, comments Sánchez Vera. “Globalization affects football and the FIFA ranking is not real because African teams only play against rivals from their continent and they don’t move up if they don’t beat higher teams… It’s clear that Nigeria isn’t number 40 in the world,” Campos intervenes. . “They have progressed because before in those countries some of the players began to play federated when they were older, the other thing was to play on the street and in what conditions… But the level of the coaches has risen and they have improved”, he clarifies Gap. “Morocco, for example, has a coach (Reynald Pedros) with two Champions. The national teams and federations have taken a step forward and the teams are no longer like before”, explains Sánchez Vera. Campos develops it: “Globalization has arrived. The African soccer player lived in anarchy. It was a physical pattern, but now they also have a game model, a tactical context.” This is how Boquete sees it: “There are characteristics in their game and style that it is good that they maintain, but they are increasingly worked on and organized.” And Sánchez Vera stresses: “The African or Jamaican teams continue to exert a lot of physical strength, but without losing order; years ago they were very chaotic. Not anymore. And to that they add physical power; You see the results.”

The woman in command. In the 1991 World Cup there was only one coach of the 12 teams that participated, the Swedish Gunilla Paijkull. “That women were part of the professional world was very complicated,” recalls Campos, proud because in this edition up to 12 of the 32 teams are counted. “It is already something natural. In any team must be the best. If it is a woman who is ready, then she has to be there, ”says Sánchez Vera. “For a while it was done by force; UEFA and FIFA encouraged women to join the different coaching staffs even though they were not fully prepared to be on the bench or in sports management; they knew that if they did not force that jump, the opportunity would never come. Now it’s a natural thing, a real option, and they prepare and measure up by knowledge and skills. The next step will be to see them directing men’s teams”, sums up Boquete. “We won’t see it. If a girl were in charge of Real Madrid, and although she shouldn’t be like that, she couldn’t work, she would be the focus of attention, she would be questioned… ”, Campos points out. “It is that perhaps the taboos and barriers are elsewhere and not in women’s football,” adds Sánchez Vera. “Let’s say that it is getting closer,” rebuts Boquete; “There is already some within the male world and more will arrive. It will cost because men usually decide and that conditions the decision. The first one to do it will have to be a brave one ”.

Things that do not change. Although each footballer will receive a minimum of 28,000 euros from FIFA, a study of 362 players revealed that 29% did not receive anything for playing in the World Cup, in the same way that 66% have had to ask permission at their second job to attend the tournament. A flaw still to be improved in women’s football. But the most serious, without a doubt, have been the allegations of sexual harassment of the Zambian players that revealed The Guardian and that supposedly have reproduced during the tournament, since the coach Bruce Mwape has been pointed out for rubbing the breasts of a player with his hand. “It’s a scandal and respect for soccer and women is urgent,” says Campos. “These are issues that it hurts to talk about… It is worrisome. Harassment at work is penalized as a crime, although there is always the presumption of innocence. But this episode once again tarnishes the image of the World Cup”, laments Sánchez Vera. “Organizations have to intervene in a serious way as against racism and other aspects,” claims Boquete.

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