Women’s World Cup: A Great Cultural Display of Fútbol

This past weekend, I witnessed the beautiful game in its truest form.

I saw hope, devastation, acrobatic skill, career-marring error and game-changing heroics. I watched one team accomplish the seemingly impossible, and another dash the hopes of an entire nation. Few fútbol games have entertained and intrigued me as much as the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinals.

On Saturday morning at breakfast at our hotel in Philadelphia, I had an interesting talk with my fellow teammates Rebecca Moros, Whitney Engen and Beverly Goebel of the Western New York Flash. Becca trained with a team in Japan for a couple months last year and was sharing some of her thoughts on how the training and playing style there differs.

She analyzed some of the cultural differences and the way girls in Japan learn to play and process the game from a young age. In many ways, their system is the opposite of what American youth players are taught. One aspect of the game we talked about specifically was possession. As youth players in the United States, it is instilled in us to “know what to do with the ball before it gets to you.” Becca felt that in Japan, they don’t decide what to do with the ball until the last second, making them much more unpredictable, which helps them to maintain possession, even under high pressure.

Not that there is a right or wrong way to play, but our conversation got me thinking about various styles and how they relate to culture in general. It’s fascinating to watch how the women’s game is developing and see these distinct styles continue to emerge and, in some ways, mimic the men’s game.

I love to see the teams who try to play good fútbol be successful. But I found myself struggling to identify exactly what that is. Does that mean extreme technical proficiency, possession and clinical finishing like the Japanese women display? Or a more free-flowing, yet also the technically solid French style? Or maybe the tactical sophistication and organization of the Germans? Or is it the Brazilian ability to produce individual magic with the ball like no other women in the world? Or maybe the mental and physical fortitude to overcome the odds and score a great goal after playing down a player for much of the game, like the U.S. women showed? The beauty of this game is that there is no single way to be successful.

After all, 5-11 Abby Wambach can score a great header, but so can Japan’s 5-4 Homare Sawa. Brazil’s Christiane is known for her ability to dance on the ball, but I was equally impressed by France’s Louisa Necib when it came to creating in the attack. Hope Solo had a couple spectacular catches, but Equatorial Guinea defender Bruna showed that she could do it, too. (Joking! But that was another entertaining moment of the tournament. In case you missed it, like the ref, check it here.)

This is the first Women’s World Cup I’ve watched where I’ve played either with or against many of the players. While I find myself at times trying to think of how I would match up, I have been swept away and thoroughly impressed and amazed by the atmosphere and level of play. I watch in admiration as not only a teammate and aspiring World Cup participant, but as a fan!