by Harrison Stark
by Harrison Stark
by Harrison Stark
Again and again, armchair pundits and professionals alike have praised the US women's team's character for rallying against Brazil and France. "That's a perfect example of what this country is about. What the history of this team has always meant," Abby Wambach said after Brazil match, "Never give up." ESPN's Paul Carr echoed the sentiment that their comeback represented uniquely American attributes: "How fascinating that the American spirit can be expressed so clearly in what is often decried as the most un-American of sports," he tweeted after the game. Wambach, after the France match, went on television to again praise the US team's desire: "France are a good side," she said, "but it came down to who wanted it more." Identical language is all over SportsCenter: "You're gonna hear the phrase 'will to win' a lot in the next few days," predicted one analyst.
I believe him.
Character, spirit, desire --the discussion about the US women's team has continually revered the team's mental ability as its greatest strength -- an expression of the American spirit though determination, hard work, and a "never say die attitude." But the truth is that the women's team has been successful not primarily because of its mental characteristics but because of the opposite -- its physical supremacy.
The women's team - like the men's - is superbly conditioned. That's in part because of the physical intensity of the WPS league in which the majority of the team plays, in part because of the excellent physical preparation employed by the national team, as well as because Title IX has our women playing sports regularly a lot more and a lot longer than most of their counterparts in the rest of the world. Sports medicine is a field that was pioneered in the US and as a result, our national athletes have frequently been in better shape than their opponents. The women's team is no exception.
It is no coincidence the US women's team frequently plays its best football at the end of matches, especially in the last 15 minutes. As opponents tire towards the end of games, it often appears that the US digs deep to push their play to the next level. The truth is at this level both teams want to win a lot; the Americans are simply in better shape, outlasting the opposition. Against France, we were firmly on the back foot for the majority of the second half, only to see the French collapse for the final portion of the game.
Similarly, the US' last-gasp equalizer against Brazil was not simply a result of undying determination, but superb conditioning - - that the US was able to continue to press while being a player down, and that Rapinoe was able to hit such a perfect cross-field pass in the 120th
minute was astounding. But it was primarily a physical achievement, not a mental one.
This is not to belittle the achievements of the women's team, or to out their play as somehow "less American". In fact, supreme physical conditioning is an American attribute, just as much if not more than the mythic 'never-say-die-attitude.' It is interesting but typical how the pundits have declared this team's success as a victory of brain over brawn. In fact, it's just the opposite.
"United States -- The 1994 World Cup host wouldn't need to build any new stadiums and says soccer could make a quantum leap in the world's biggest economy. Detractors point out that U.S. just hosted the World Cup 16 years ago. Odds: 4/5.
Qatar - Upstart emirate has dropped millions on celebrity endorsements (Zinédine Zidane) and promised to build air-conditioned stadiums and training sites. But tiny country the size of Connecticut promises logistical problems, and a recently released FIFA report says the overpowering heat poses "a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators." Odds: 9/4.
Australia - Aussies have never hosted the World Cup and put on a successful 2000 Olympics in Sydney. But the time zone is bad for TV broadcasts in Europe and the Americas, and awarding the bid to any member of the Asian confederation (which includes Australia and the other non-U.S. bidders) would prevent FIFA favorite China from hosting the Cup until perhaps 2034. Odds: 5/2.
South Korea - Longshot bid co-hosted '02 Cup, but adds political angle by promising to include North Korean host city. Odds: 12/1.
Japan - Longshot bid co-hosted 2002 World Cup, but proposing high-tech event. Odds: 20/1."
This site lists the odds at various British oddsmakers. The consensus:
For 2018: Russia a strong favorite, England second, Spain a fairly distant third.
For 2022: Qatar a strong favorite, USA second, Australia a close third.
Are England's chances on the rise, as some experts believe? (Photo courtesy of theuksportsnetwork.com)
GABRIELE MARCOTTI , BBC AND UK TIMES (ACCORDING TO MARK LANGDON ON TWITTER):
For 2018: Russia 8-11, England 3-1, Iberia 7-1
For 2022: Qatar 4-5, Australia 3-1, USA 6-1
Makes Russia the favorite for 2018, with Iberia and England trailing. Makes Qatar the 2022 favorite, with the USA trailing.
OLIVER KAY, UK TIMES (VIA TWITTER):
2018: "Sudden flush of English optimism in Zurich tonight re 2018. Still far too many ifs and buts though. Genuine 3-horse race"
2022: "USA emerging as clear favourites. Would never have said this pre-94, but they're the obvious choice again."
2018: For what it's worth, everyone makes Russia the favorite in a close three-competitor race. The key for Iberia seems to be that while it has eight solid votes -- enough to probably get to the last round -- the problem is in finding four more. If England can possibly pip another of the contenders to get to the finals, even it has an outside chance.
2022: Most outsiders think Qatar is the favorite, with the USA a close second. It all depends on how many European votes Qatar can get. It will be close.