England women’s football team will take on the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-final in front of a capacity crowd of 59, 000 at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais. It’s a fitting stage for what is billed the biggest match in women’s football till date.
It’s a stadium well-versed in the technical proficiency that the women’s game has to offer. It is home to Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, the most successful women’s football team in world football. The team has won 13 consecutive league titles between 2007 and 2019 and 6 Champions Leagues. Administrators and policy-makers from the English and USA football federations have often cited them as models of gender equity and long-term visions for women’s sports being fulfilled today.
It is here, in the cosy Décines-Charpieu metropolis, at the foothills of the Alps that England will look to scale the heights of women’s football, surpassing the favourites and defending world champions the USA. England manager Phil Neville anticipates a domestic viewership to exceed 11 million. This will mean a new TV record for the year, exceeding the finale of Line of Duty - a police drama. Neville also anticipates that many among them of them will be the next generation of Lucy Bronzes.
“I heard 7.9 million saw the Norway game but we’ll have 10 to 12 million watching against the US. We have gathered momentum on and off the pitch and now the players have got to deliver,” said Neville in the pre-match press conference.
For the USA though, it’ll be a mission in quelling England’s shouts of “it’s coming home.” The catchphrase first used by the men’s England national football team, presupposes that football has a home and that it is England. When in fact, it is the USA who have been the ones who really have the claim of being the women’s game adopted home.
Football, by the virtue of its international success in the women’s game, is the premier sport for girls in the United States. From play school to high-school, football moms and their girls have long since established themselves as a part of American culture and consciousness. The football field is the pram where the strong independent women find their feet and their voices as girls growing up.
They set the precedent by winning the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, and then winning two more World Championships, four Olympic gold medals, eight CONCACAF Gold Cup to maintain the popularity of the sport in a country that struggles with attention spans and the ephemerality of glossy new things. It’s remarkable, that in a culture dominated by basketball, Baseball, and pigskin football (that’s mostly played with the hand), that the nuances of football can hold its own. The only other women’s team to rank No 1 in the women’s football world rankings is Germany.
Statisticians are giving the England women’s team only a 24 percent chance of winning. The team is yet to reach the final of this competition. This will be a new and an unnatural feeling for traditional England supporters to not head into a World Cup semi-final as underdogs. Yet they have recent history to bank upon.
The England women’s team did also reach the semi-finals of the last World Cup, which the USA won. Their performance in the European Championships also ended with a semi-final place. Coach Neville believes that the next step isn’t beyond them. "The losses have been instructional. My players now have to progress to become serial winners. We’ve done semi-finals – we have to make the next step.”
One of the players that will be standing between England and the chance of becoming the second England team to win a World Cup (first being 1966 by the men’s national team), is tough as tacks, lilac-haired Megan Rapinoe. As France found out despite ending their quarter-final game with 7 world -class Olympique Lyonnais Féminin players, Rapinoe looks and plays like a person who could stare of paint and win. Rapinoe has 5 goals in the tournament, and will be facing England’s Lucy Bronze.
“I love challenges. It’s a part of my fabric,” said a defiant Bronze in the pre-match presser. “Megan is without a doubt one of the very best to play the game of football.”
Rapione’s two-goal celebrations versus France wasn’t an ordinary celebration. In many people’s mind, it felt like the clouds parted, a double rainbow arched over Parc de Princes, bugles rang out as she spread her arms out like how you’d imagine Harry Houdini would after an encore. In that perfect light, she looked like alabaster sculpted, emanating a glow from within. A glowing pride of what she represents - the culmination of the hopes and dreams of the millions of girls who didn’t think they could play football owing to their gender. She openly defied the bigoted President of the United States in solidarity of LGBTQ+, and the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, while being openly against openly, normalised excluvism policies of the Trump government. In the week she was verbally skewered by right-leaning media like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was, she revelled in it. Smug as a swan in the rain, while the frogs took cover.
She is considerably aware of the message she puts out every time she pulls on the colours of America: “People want – they need – to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ US of A.” For this reason, many of England’s women’s football team fans won’t begrudge seeing Rapinoe go ahead and eventually lift the trophy. But considering their own troubles with Brexit and gender discrimination in the British employment landscape, it would mean just as much or more.
In other words, if you tune in for the match as you should, you’ll be a witness to a World Cup semi-final where there will be no losers in the grander scheme of things. Lucy Bronze, Alex Morgan, Rapinoe, and Nikita Parris will end up being household names one way or another, and there’s nothing no bigot anywhere can do anything about.
Updated Date: Jul 02, 2019 16:48:24 IST