The most shocking result from the first week of the 2019 Women’s World Cup came courtesy of Argentina, a country without an active team as recently as 2017.
The No. 37 team in the FIFA world rankings, Argentina bunkered down Monday for a scoreless draw with Japan, the runner-up at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, in Paris. For more than 80 minutes Tuesday, Chile, another recently inactive South American team outside the top 35, tried to do the same.
Like Argentina, Chile went multiple years without playing games earlier this decade and are one of the most inspiring collective stories in France this year.
Also like Argentina, Chile seemed to have almost no chance of actually outplaying Sweden, a top-10 team, to open Group F play Tuesday in Rennes, so Chile sent as may players back on defense as it could to hunt either a scoreless draw or a fluky one-goal win on a fluky counterattack score and it almost worked.
Sweden didn’t break through for the first goal of a 2-0 win until the 83rd minute at Roazhon Park, robbing Chile of the same sort of emotional moment Argentina got to experience.
In the past, this tactic has not worked particularly well at the World Cup.
The talent gap between the top teams in the field and the bottom half of each group is massive, which has often led to blowouts throughout the group stages of the world’s most high-profile tournament. In 2015, six matches in the group stage were decided by four goals or more. In 2019, only one of the first 11 was decided by more than three.
It’s sort of a monkey’s paw situation for the Women’s World Cup this year.
The bottom-tier teams have figured out how to make games competitive, which theoretically builds overall intrigue because of the increased upset potential, but the solution has been to play the most boring style imaginable, which, of course, makes the moment-to-moment action often dull.
It doesn’t mean thrilling moments aren’t buried within each match — watching Argentina celebrate its 0-0 draw is what makes international sports great and Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler made four incredible saves to keep the draw alive into the final 10 minutes — just that they come less frequent than they would in a more open style.
Ultimately, it’s probably progress for the sport and it’s particularly notable two South American teams have played this style effectively. Traditionally, South America has not supported its women’s teams well. Simply playing tight games should expand interest on the continent. It already proves the level of play is elevated there.