Talking to the BBC at half-time with his side 1-0 up, England coach Phil Neville said that his team was facing the best goalkeeper at the Women’s World Cup. The evidence over 90 minutes to back up the Englishman’s claim was compelling.
Japan may have ultimately fallen to a 2-0 defeat to England in its final group game, but goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita certainly stood out, as has many a goalkeeper in this tournament.
Were it not for the goalkeeper’s acrobatics in Nice the defeat to an England team which has now won eight matches in a row at major tournaments – and qualified from the group stages of a World Cup with a 100% record for the first time in its history – would certainly have been heavier.
In the first half the 23-year-old made a reflex save to prevent Rachel Daly from doubling England’s advantage, while after the break she was at full stretch to push away Tony Duggan’s half volley.
Arguably Yamashita came off her line a touch too quickly to make Ellen White’s first of two goals a far simpler chance than it otherwise would have been – but that was the only blot on an impressive display.
Standing at 5 feet, 5 inches, the Nippon TV Beleza player is certainly not a towering presence, but she has added her name to the list of fine goalkeeping performances witnessed in France. Indeed, both goalkeepers shone in the south of France. In the eighth minute, England’s Karen Bardsley, criticized for costly errors in the past, produced a stunning save to keep out Kumi Yokoyama’s free kick.
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The debate to make goals smaller
Female goalkeepers have long been the subject of mockery by those who wish to pour scorn on the women’s game. It is the stick which is often used to beat the women’s game. Is this the tournament which has put the goalkeeping debate to bed? Not quite, perhaps.
In a column in the English newspaper, The Times, Emma Hayes, manager of English side Chelsea Women, remarked that “no one ever thought to question whether it makes sense” for goal sizes to be the same in both the men’s and women’s game.
“It’s not sexist to call for smaller pitches and goals for women,” rang the headline on the opinion piece. In the article published on June 13, Hayes argued that the size of goals should be smaller, pointing out that the height of hurdles in track and field differ for the sexes. The average height for women in England at least, Hayes argued, was 5 feet, 5 inches, while on average English males were 5 feet, 9 inches.
US defender Crystal Dunn has disagreed with Hayes’ comments this week, saying that Christine Endler’s goal-stopping display against the US was “testament” that the goals are “exactly the size they need to be.”
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Were it not for the Chilean, her country could have suffered a thrashing against the US. Instead, the World Cup debutants fell to a 3-0 loss, a respectable score against the defending champions considering the 13-0 scoreline Thailand suffered in the US’ first game.
Player-of-the-match performances from Argentina’s Vanina Correa and Endler in the group stages suggest goal sizes are fine as they are. Yamashita’s display supported that, too.
“Not enough respect goes to the coaches and the goalkeepers that are performing fantastically,” said England boss Neville after Correa’s eye-catching performance against his team.
In her column with the Guardian, former US goalkeeper Hope Solo explained that the position was one of the last aspects of the women’s game to develop because of a lack of resources.
“Goalkeeper coaches are often the last hired on many professional teams,” the American wrote.
Endler, said Solo, was a “one in a million” goalkeeper. The Chilean emerges from this tournament with her reputation enhanced, but so too do many others in her position.
In 18-year-old Chiamaka Nnadozie – who became the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at a World Cup in Nigeria’s victory over South Korea – the Super Falcons had a player who had stood up to whatever came her way against France, until the teenager suffered a harsh lesson on the biggest stage of all when she was penalized for stepping off her line before Wendi Renard hit her penalty.
The same happened in Scotland’s equally dramatic match against Argentina on Wednesday.
Lee Alexander stepped off her line to save an injury-time penalty, a transgression which gave Florencia Bonsegundo the chance to retake the spot kick, which secured a 3-3 draw for an Argentina team which was 3-0 down until the final 15 minutes.
It was the first time in history a team had dragged itself back from 3-0 down at a Women’s World Cup. Victory for Scotland would have put the country through to the last 16. Instead, all World Cup debutants have now failed to progress to the knockout stages.
A technical error from Alexander proved costly, yes, but the new penalty rule introduced at the beginning of this month which deems that a goalkeeper must have “at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is taken” will catch out many a goalkeeper over the coming months, male or female.
For all the record scores, for all the hat-tricks, goalkeepers at this World Cup have stood up to the task, whatever size the goal in front of them.