Expectations are always important in the World Cup, but reputation is also very important.
The US women’s team, who will face Vietnam in the tournament opener at 9pm in Auckland, New Zealand, of course knows this.
Wins, trophies and championships send messages before teams even take the field and Friday is no exception. The journey to win the World Cup for the third time in a row and for the fifth time in total will begin with today’s match against Vietnam. In theory (on grass, let’s be honest) this is not what most people would consider a fair fight.
Vietnam seems to agree. At a welcome ceremony in Oakland this week, the country’s players gathered around the American players to take selfies, and on Friday at the pre-match press conference at Eden Park, a reporter from Vietnam took the microphone, introduced himself and aimed directly at the indoor elephant.
“What do you expect from the Vietnam team tomorrow?” he asked US coach Vlatko Andonovski. “Are you going to crush it like the Thai game four years ago?”
To be honest, it’s a valid question, and one that’s been on the minds of many since World Cup debutant Vietnam fell to two-time defending champions USA in the World Cup draw.
Every football fan, every player, every coach knows what happened four years ago when the United States played Thailand in a similar venue. The 13-0 win evoked emotions that ranged from respect to awe to repulsion during a surprisingly uncompetitive 90 minutes. Many of those people, and perhaps some on both teams, are hoping for a similar result against Vietnam.
As the question erupted in laughter, Andonovski grinned and spoke politely of respect, admitting, “They will fight for us with all their might.” He couldn’t say it, but 13-0 would be fine for him. The more goals you have, the better.
The U.S. team in this World Cup is not the same team that traveled to France four years ago and beat everyone in the field. A team battling injuries, fusing veterans and rookies, and still trying to find its way, is in its first World Cup under Andonovski, along with 14 of its players.
Of course, there are also connections with past champions. After scoring five goals against Thailand, Alex Morgan is back for Vietnam. Rose Lovell, who played two games that day at Reims, has been out of the team for months, but he is finally feeling well, Andnowski said. Lindsey Horan and Megan Rapinoe, two names on the 2019 scoresheet, each returned in different roles. The former as a co-captain, the latter as a seasoned substitute, as a card to play in key moments and big games.
As ruthless as the team that won 13-0? Four years ago, Carly Lloyd cringed, thinking America should have slowed down and slowed down. She said there was a reason for the killer instinct that drove her and her team forward. That’s what made them great.
And although this is a new team, perhaps that spirit is still burning. I’m sure Andonovsky hopes so too.