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Sunday, September 21, 2003

To the Women's World Cup yesterday. This was A.'s good idea; it would never occur to me to go to Ohio. In fact, this was my first time in the Buckeye State. Canada came out strong in the opener, playing a very physical brand of football that seemed to throw the Germans off their game. The teams went into their locker rooms at the half tied 1-1, but the Canadians looked, to me, to be dominating. The Germans were having difficulty getting their methodical attack uncorked-- but when they came out for the second half, it was clear that they had found their game, and were through being pushed around. At the end, it was 4-1 Germany, and it wasn't even that close.

We were pumped up for the second match, Japan v. Argentina, and what we got was a young, fast Japanese team using the entire field and completely dominating an Argentine side that started playing angry, frustrated ball early, and ended, following a red card, playing shorthanded for about 3/4ths of the match. This was mostly a ground game, in contrast to the Canada-Germany match, where a great deal of the play was about keeping the ball in the air and controlling it there. The Japanese women had a precise passing style that was breathtaking-- somehow, there was always someone there. The Argentine women were stuck trying to doubleteam faster players. The shots on goal tell the story: Japan had a 21-1 advantage. The play of the night was a brilliant header by Mio Otani, who was parallel to the ground, and about two feet above it when she struck a crossing shot into the net. I don't think I've ever seen a shot like it.

It was an interesting crowd. Mostly local, I'd say, mostly families with daughters, like ours; but with a smattering of supporters from the teams' countries-- I'd say there were about two hundred Japanese there. The remainder of the crowd were serious soccer fans-- people who have been to other World Cups, and other international matches. Some of these people looked like coaches or gym teachers. There were also a number of athletic looking women in their early 20's-- college players, perhaps, or recent grads, often there with their buff, buzz cut boy friends. Actually, I'd say that the fans in attendance were unusually fit looking, which was kind of cool. The average Bills fan is as big as Rubin Brown. These people resembled the players too, but in a good way.

My sense was that the local folk were part of an active soccer scene. Columbus is home to the first stadium built specifically for Major League Soccer, and it is a nice facility. I'd thought that we would be seeing the games at the Ohio State Stadium, but the Buckeyes were running off their 18th consecutive win, and the 20,000 or so soccer fans would have been lost in the cavernous 101,568 seat pile on the banks of the Olentangy River. Even though I'd have thought there'd be a bigger turnout for something like this, and even though the league has just suspended, I think there is a market for this sport, and I think it is growing. They could sell it smarter-- we'd have popped for team jerseys, for example, but there were none available. What's up with that, FIFA? The lines were long, and slow, and the selection was spotty-- I'd have to say that men drive the sports buck most of the time, so having some shirts available in men's sizes just makes sense.

On the other hand, at the end of the matches, players were happy to sign autographs for the people standing at the rail on the edge of the field. They seemed flattered with the attention, and the overall effect was charming. These are world class athletes, but they weren't jerks about it-- they were transformed from the athletic elite into nice twenty something year old womenwhen the game was over. The effect was big sisterly. Find a way to keep that, and the sport will always have a place.

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