Those International Breaks! – Brian McGuire

Sometimes women’s football is strange. On the surface it is essentially the exact same sport as the men’s game – same rules, same pitches, same basic idea of how to play, same competitions, and often the same club names and shirts.

And yet even with all these similarity it is often the huge gaping differences that interest me…

For example, when did you last hear a men’s football fan say this: “Fantastic! It’s international break!!! Woohoooooo!”

Whether you find this development lamentable or it leaves you indifferent, the decline of international football in the eyes (and in the hearts) of fans continues unabated.

Don’t get me wrong, we love a World Cup, a European Championship, even the odd high profile friendly (at the right time of year, of course) but stopping in the middle of our league programmes for ten days to fit in two one-sided, unglamorous qualification games with teams closer to China than to Europe simply does not make the modern football fan happy. Friendlies only compound the disaffection, especially if one of your team’s players comes back crocked.

Traditionalists may hate this, but the status and profile of some of the biggest club teams now dwarfs that of most, if not all the national associations. Many fans of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool put their club far, far ahead England.

In the women’s game (as you may have guessed) it is different. The national teams remain the top and most desirable level of the game. Domestic leagues and even the UEFA Women’s Champions League simply do not (as yet) command the potential attention and commercial pull of the national teams. For the players it is only with the National Team that one can gain the widest and deepest exposure.

In women’s football it is the various National teams who drive on the leagues and not the other way round as in the men’s game. And so even a weekend of friendlies and test matches, such as await us now, feel relatively more important to women’s fans as the last batch of qualifiers probably felt to men’s fans.

Sunday 7th April 3pm BST, Rotherham United FC, Live stream on FATV

Aside from Germany’s match with the USA on Friday, the other friendly this weekend that interests me takes place in the small English town of Rotherham in the interestingly named “New-York-Stadium”, between England and Canada. Some may bill this as a revenge game for the Olympic Quarter Final exit…but that was of course Team GB, not England, and Kim Little of Scotland really is good enough to say it’s an important distinction.

These two also met recently in the final of the Cyprus Cup (played simultaneously with Algrave final) and England emerged with a deserved 1-0 (and a smashing winner it was from Rachel Yankey) victory to claim the cup. Yes, you read that right, England won a trophy at football!

I don’t have much time or affection for the English men’s team (to put it very mildly) but the women’s team is a different matter. While being ignored (and often ridiculed) by their own countrymen, the women of the FA have been steadily improving year on year posting better finishes in the 2011 world cup (quarter finals) than the men in 2010 (last 16) and reaching the 2009 European final while the men failed to qualify in 2008 and went out meekly in the quarter finals last summer.

They can also boast a first fourteen of genuine quality. Their defence is very strong (very English) with the Lincoln trio of keeper Karen Bardsely, young Sophie Bradley and the lead-by-example captain Casey Stoney at the heart of it. In midfield heir is the accomplished defensive bedrock of Anita Asante, along with long strided Jill Scott, skilful creators like Karen Carney and Farah Williams and attacking intent in Rachel Yankey. Up front they have trusted net-finders like Rachel Williams and Ellen White and (subject to injury) there is Kelly Smith, the best woman’s footballer I think England have produced thus far – and I’ve seen her live in action, too. Awesome.

They may not have the depth of the Germans or the USA, and therefore more vulnerable to injuries, but with youngsters coming into the team like Arsenal’s Jordan Nobbs and Everton’s Toni Duggan they are fast becoming a team I want to watch more often.

They may not be favourites for Sweden in July (I place them fourth best behind Germany, Sweden and France) but the gap between England and the top team is smaller than it has ever been and therefore with a bit of luck, England could indeed carry home their first major football trophy since 1966. Except, of course, sadly without the national euphoria, one suspects.

The game on Sunday will not be easy for England – Canada have a lot of good players and in Christine Sinclair one of the most gifted forwards on the planet – but with the Euros in mind and hopefully a loud and full stadium behind them, I think they should come away with another victory, and hopefully a bit more public backing as the run in to the finals continues.

Sadly, while the German TV will show their teams’ games, the England game does not seem to be on the BBC and will be available over the FA’s You Tube Channel “FATV”.

There are other friendlies too, France play Canada on Thursday (I predict France dominating and Canada getting a draw), the US vs Holland on Tuesday (Big US win) and Scotland vs Wales on Sunday (Predict another impressive Scots performance).

If any of your countries are in action this weekend, why not either get down to the stadium, or try and tune in (difficult, I know) and show your support. Strong and popular women’s National Teams are the bedrock on which any strong semi or fully professional women’s league are built.


Pictured – England and Canada in Cyrpus Cup action (Photo – Ville Vuorinen)

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