A burst of laughter rang all through the press convention room at Eden Park on Friday evening as a journalist from Vietnam requested United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski what a lot of the remainder of the world is questioning: “Are you going to crush us such as you did to Thailand 4 years in the past?”
Andonovski and USA captain Lindsey Horan have been the one two who didn’t chortle, though Horan tried to carry again a smirk. Andonovski composed himself because the laughter petered out.
“We do have a variety of respect for the staff and for the coach and we anticipate nothing much less however that they are going to struggle, they are going to placed on a battle and they’re going to make it as arduous as attainable as us,” Andonovski stated.
If there’s any feeling that the US’ 2023 World Cup opener in opposition to Vietnam on Saturday may emulate that of their first match in France 4 years in the past, it’s not coming from inside the staff’s camp.
The USA defeated Thailand 13-0 at their 2019 World Cup opener in a historic thrashing that introduced the Individuals criticism for his or her continued celebration of targets. Thailand have been a staff making their senior World Cup debut and clearly overmatched by the USA, who have been simply starting their marketing campaign that may finish with a fourth World Cup title.
There are simple (and lazy) parallels to attract with Saturday’s match. The USA are, as soon as once more, defending champions and among the many match favorites. Vietnam are one other smaller Asian aspect making their senior World Cup debut with gamers who largely don’t play in top-tier world leagues.
4 years later, nonetheless, the ladies’s soccer panorama continues to develop stronger, and with it, so do groups at varied ranges. There are extra true World Cup contenders than earlier than. Groups which might be usually overmatched are actually extra able to competing with favorites now, even when not persistently.
Vietnam misplaced their closing World Cup tune-up recreation to Spain, 9-0, a recreation preceded by a 2-0 Vietnam loss to New Zealand. In late June, nonetheless, Vietnam held Germany, one of many different World Cup favorites, to a 2-1 victory regardless of Germany maintaining almost 75% of possession.
“Vietnam is a staff that we anticipate to take a seat in a low block and people groups are arduous to interrupt down,” USA ahead Sophia Smith stated this week. “So we’ve been working lots on that. However on the finish of the day, the main target is on ourselves and the sport that we need to play, the model that we all know the best way to play, no matter who it’s that we’re taking part in.”
Many of the outdoors world expects a blowout like 4 years in the past in opposition to Thailand. The marquee match of the group stage comes subsequent week, when the USA and the Netherlands meet in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup closing that may probably resolve the group winner (and, crucially, what is anticipated to be a friendlier path within the knockout stage.
“Everybody’s at all times asking us questions in regards to the Netherlands and Portugal,” USA defender Crystal Dunn stated Thursday, “and I’m like, we now have Vietnam. We’ve bought to get by means of this recreation earlier than we even take into account speaking in regards to the second recreation.”
Saturday’s match at Eden Park may very well be a great way for the US to ease into the match. The Individuals have been ravaged by main accidents over the previous 12 months, most lately to captain Becky Sauerbrunn. Her absence from this match will pressure the USA to make the most of a center-back pairing that largely has not performed collectively, regardless of the mixture.
Andonovski stated that Julie Ertz – who may very well be an answer within the place – is “100%” regardless of lacking the 9 July sendoff match in opposition to Wales however beginning No 10 Rose Lavelle must construct minutes all through the match. Megan Rapinoe, who will likely be in a reserve function this match on the wing, can even should construct her minutes progressively.
Saturday, then, is in regards to the consequence at first. “But in addition,” Andonovski stated, “we do need to see these gamers join effectively, as a result of the lineup that we now have, or the gamers which might be going to be on the sector, haven’t been on the sector collectively for a very long time. It’s totally different than having them on the sector in coaching and it’s totally different than being on the sector and having recreation minutes collectively. It could be good to see among the issues that we’ve labored on displayed on the sector and getting higher because the match goes on.”
Andonovski has been requested advert nauseum in regards to the cliché that the world is catching up, and he has continuously rejected the premise. The world already caught up, he has stated beforehand, and the USA are nonetheless combating to keep up their perch as they start a quest for an unprecedented third straight title.
Horan has seen that change, too.
“Groups are getting higher, there’s extra investments,” she stated. “They’re getting nearer and nearer to the US. That is what is meant to occur. We would like such a aggressive World Cup, we wish all these groups to present us their finest, give us a aggressive recreation. You’ve seen the primary matches of the World Cup and they aren’t simple video games. They may be groups that earlier than you have been like, that is going to be six, seven-zero. That’s not how it’s anymore.”