Five things we learned from Rio Olympics women’s football

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Five things we learned from the women’s football tournament at Rio 2016:

– Brazil finally gets women’s football

Women’s football opened the Olympics in underwhelming circumstances with barely a few hundred spectators attending the opening match between Sweden and South Africa at Rio’s 60,000 Olympic stadium.

However, inspired by the hosts’ positive start, Brazil finally seemed to warm to the female form of the national game. In particular, Brazil’s hero Marta and Co. enjoyed massive crowds for their matches.

Even after Brazil had been knocked out, Friday’s final attracted an attendance well in excess of 50,000 – significantly more than for many of the athletics sessions.

“The medal we’ve won is the respect of people,” said Brazilian goalkeeper Aline. “Brazil is paying more attention to women’s soccer.”

– USA are beatable

It had been 15 matches and eight years since the USA had lost a match at the Olympics, 12 years since they hadn’t won the gold, and never had they failed to make the podium. All three happened in Brazil following a shock quarter-final elimination on penalties to Sweden.

The world champions were unfortunate against former boss Pia Sundhage’s Swedes, but they were also far from convincing in sneaking past New Zealand and France in the group stage before a 2-2 draw with 24th world ranked Colombia.

Missing the presence of retired all-time top scorer Abby Wambach, the Americans were over-reliant on captain Carli Lloyd, now also 34, offering hope to others that they can be dethroned at the 2019 World Cup in France.

– Marta destined to be nearly woman

Despite being crowned as the world’s best player for five years in a row between 2005 and 2010, Brazil’s golden girl Marta has never managed to get the Canarinhas over the line to win a major international tournament.

After defeats to Germany in the 2007 World Cup final and silver medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, the stage was set for the 30-year-old to cap her career on home soil.

However, Marta is not the only key Brazilian player the wrong side of 30 with Formiga, who was playing in her sixth Games at 38, and the Olympics top-scorer of all-time Cristiane 31.

Tellingly, after starting by scoring eight goals in two games, Brazil flagged as the demands of playing every three days and two periods of extra-time took hold. A paltry one goal in their final four matches saw them miss out on the podium completely.

– Solo won’t be silenced

Her tournament only lasted four matches, but outspoken US goalkeeper Hope Solo still dominated headlines. Targeted with chants of “Zika” for posting an elaborate picture of a mosquito net over her head on Twitter before the Games, Solo drew the ire of the IOC and even some of her teammates for calling Sweden “cowards” for their defensive approach in the USA’s quarter-final defeat.

“Really disappointed, to be honest,” said veteran US midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “That’s not what this team has always been. That’s not what this team will be in the future.”

– Female coaches lead the way

Of the 12 teams in Brazil, only four had female coaches: The two finalists, Sweden and Germany, the United States and South Africa.

Jill Ellis led the USA to win the World Cup last year and Vera Pauw has overseen dramatic improvements in South African women’s football.

Pauw, Sweden coach Sundhage and retiring German boss Silvia Neid also had long and successful playing careers, showing the way for more female coaches who understand the differences between the men’s and women’s game better than many of their male counterparts.

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