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Hey guys,

I present you with a little something to take your mind off anticipating England's World Cup semi-final on Wednesday 🥵

Even though the stakes are higher than the quarter-final, I think I'm feeling less trepidatious to face a 'bigger' opponent in Australia than I was to take on the banana skin of Colombia. I'm even looking forward to it — for now.

Watching the Matildas vs France with a few English friends on Saturday, I was surprised that most of them wanted Australia to go through on the grounds that it would make for 'a better atmosphere' in the semi-final. From where I'm standing, that same amazing atmosphere which the Australians will bring is an obstacle to progress.

It made me think about my priorities. Do I want to have an amazing experience, or do I want my team to win? Whatever happens, it'll be huge.

Flora xx

Rack off

It’s so unfair that the fate of a team is often determined by the acts of individuals.

At the 2015 World Cup, England were moments away from extra time in a tied game against former world champions Japan when Laura Bassett scored a spectacular goal. On the stretch and with her first touch, she sent the ball looping over the goalkeeper and the line, via the crossbar.

With the match nearly finished, it was a decisive moment that would have been heartily celebrated by England fans had Bassett not been intercepting a Japanese cross, and had it not been England keeper Karen Bardsley whom the ball escaped.

The Lionesses’ World Cup dream was over, thanks to a freak own goal scored by a defender who was trying to protect her penalty box.
Laura Bassett looks very sad after scoring an own goal
“I couldn’t breathe, my heart was out of my chest and I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me,” Bassett said.

Speaking to the press three days after their hapless defeat, Bassett was still reluctant to face the reality of her tournament-defining act: “I haven’t been able to speak to my mum and dad over FaceTime yet because they will just set me off crying. I’ve messaged them and I know they are so proud but I keep thinking about that moment and I would do anything to change it.”

When you watch footage of referee Anna-Marie Keighley confirming that the winner stood after the ball bounced deceptively out of the goalmouth, you can see Bassett shouting “fuck off” in disbelief.

You would feel just that, wouldn’t you? Fuck off. I’ve trained for years to reach a moment like this, and a cruel accident has spoiled it for me and my teammates, who have all made the same sacrifices. Just fuck off.

Phew

Van der Gragt slaps dat ball
On Friday, Netherlands defender Stefanie van der Gragt felt the same as she conceded a 78th-minute penalty to Spain in the quarter-final. I’d argue her injustice is smaller, given her ‘position’ was far less ‘natural’ than Bassett’s, but she was definitely withdrawing her hand when the ball struck it. Without care for van der Gragt’s intention, referee Stéphanie Frappart wasted no time at the monitor. It was a shit way to concede a penalty. Spain scored to make it 1-0 with just ten minutes of the 90 left for the Netherlands to respond.

To make things even more crap for van der Gragt, she had previously announced that she will retire from football — both for club and country — at the conclusion of this World Cup, meaning one of her last acts as a pro was a crucial, dream-shattering error which would colour her last minutes on the pitch with guilt and desperation.

I don’t know whether Dutch coach Andries Jonker saw van der Gragt’s pain. But what the Netherlands had which Bassett and co didn’t was time. And with twelve minutes added on, Jonker sent his unfortunate centre-back upfront.

If you didn’t catch this beautiful moment, maybe you can guess what happens next.

With van der Gragt on her toes at the shoulder of the last man, Victoria Pelova sent her clean through. It was the perfect chance to score, but the job was far from done as van der Gragt received the ball 30 yards out. Two defenders raised their their arms, calling for offside. Red shirts were bearing down on her as she struck from the box-edge, and Dutch subs celebrated before the ball crossed the line.
We all love scoring goals. We all love scoring crucial goals, which keep your team in the competition. But scoring a goal which saves you a retirement filled with regret? That’s a different sort of relief.

A quandary

In the end, Spain claimed a deserved victory in extra time with a goal by a player at the other end of her career, nineteen-year-old Salma Paralluelo, who carried the ball upfield, stole into the penalty box, fooled Annie Nouwen with a drop of her shoulder before scoring off the far post.

It was a fair outcome for the dominant side, whose quick, intricate passing was a delight to watch. Watching from Sydney Fan Park, I’d wanted the Netherlands to progress as they would clearly make weaker opponents should they reach the final along with England. But many were rooting for the Netherlands for other reasons.
If life was fair, Jorge Vilda would be nowhere near this World Cup. Fifteen Spanish players refused to represent their country under him, claiming he created a controlling environment for his players. The federation refused to respond to the action and Vilda remained in post for the tournament.
Jorge Villa press conference
This is awkward. You’d hate to see Vilda do well, as this would be a vindication of his grim behaviour. But at the same time, why should the players who suffered around him not achieve their own dreams, which have nothing to do with him?

At the final whistle, with their place in the semi-final confirmed, the Spanish players made it clear who had won the game for them. As Vilda walked onto the pitch to congratulate his team, they treated him like an off manchego, giving him a wide berth.

Big mouths

In the lead up to the Netherlands quarter-final against Spain, the conversation came around to the USA’s early departure and Dutch attacker Lineth Beerenstyn had no qualms saying what the rest of us have all been thinking.
Netherlands attacker LIneth Beerensteyn chatting to press before quarter final v Spain
“The first moment when I heard that they were out, I was just thinking: ‘Yes! Bye!’” she said.

“Because from the start of this tournament, they had a really big mouth – they were talking already about the final and stuff.

“I was just thinking: ‘You first have to show it on the pitch before you are talking.’”

Earlier in the tournament, the Netherlands drew 1-1 with the USA, topping Group E in their stead and generally messing things up. The USA had beaten the Netherlands in the 2019 final, and lifted the 2015 trophy, too — so it made sense that FIFA orientated their fixture schedule around the world’s dominant force. The States’ second-placed qualification (which Portugal almost stole) meant American fans had to watch their round of 16 game in the early hours of the morning, while the Netherlands played the slot designated for them at a cosy 10PM EST.

Let’s not pretend we didn’t all delight in seeing the States knocked out early. We love the drama. We hate other people winning, especially when they do it a lot. We don’t always like the manner in which American people perceive themselves, preferring people to refer to their own success with as little directness as this very diplomatic sentence.

Most people enjoyed Beerenstyn’s comments. Americans didn’t, and when Beerenstyn’s own side departed the competition at the hands of Spain, they let her know what they really think of her.
Miaow.

Scum bastards

I interrupt this World Cup to bring you a minging development from the wild world of men’s football.

Earlier this year, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped charges against Manchester United wonderkid Mason Greenwood for attempted rape, engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour and assault, a year after his girlfriend published of a sound recording of him forcing her to have sex.

With no criminal proceedings in progress, he is free to pick up where he left off with his career as a professional football player, and Manchester United are in the process of deciding whether or not this is a good idea.

Having hated the Reds all of my life, I was just coming round to the idea of liking their women’s side. Since its inception in 2018, the club have done all the right things to support their players to be good at football, which cannot be said of all big clubs.

Well, now the Premier League juggernauts can forget my support.
Katie Zelem and Mary Earps
At the weekend, Manchester United announced that they are delaying a decision about whether Greenwood will return until they have spoken to 'all relevant stakeholders' including fans, commercial partners, and the women’s team. This means that they are waiting for Ella Toone, Katie Zelem, and Mary Earps to fly home from Australia to see what they think.

What are they expecting them to say?

“Sounds good boss, yeah we’ve heard him saying ‘I don't care if you want to have sex with me, I don't give a fuck what you want’ on that audio clip that’s doing the rounds haha, but so long as the cops say he’s sound then then yeah, get him down to Carrington asap 👍🏼”

I don't think so. The content of the audio recording negates the need for a court ruling on his footballing future and, while 'every person makes mistakes', the damage of implicitly condoning violence against women far outweighs any on-field advantage which might be gained by forgiving their young star.

To equate these things is degrading, and frankly, even asking Tooneh, Earps and Zelem to pass a judgement which will make them targets to Greenwood-loving trolls is offensive.

How would it feel to make a mistake which lets loads of people down? Why are Manchester United such evil bastards? Is it ok to talk yourself up? What would it be like in the dressing room if Spain won the World Cup? These are some of the questions which football has had me asking over the last few days. If you have any answers or reflections, hit me up at [email protected] or reply to this email.
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