Saturday 19 August 2017

Wembley at last

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Wembley Way in 2012

Wembley at last

Roy Hay

The journey which began at Hampden Park in Glasgow now reaches its end at the new Wembley stadium in London. Multiplex may have had a tough time building the thing, financially and otherwise, but the result is impressive. No doubt it will be more so when it is filled with spectators for the semifinals and finals of the women’s and men’s tournaments but even empty it resonates. Today it is France versus Japan in the women’s semi-final and the journos of both countries are filtering into the press areas as I write this.

Inside Wembley stadium when it was empty before the semifinal between France and Japan

Both teams have continued their excellent form in the World Cup in Germany into this tournament. The French were two goals up against a stunned United States before going down by four goals to two. Japan beat Canada, which is in the other semi-final, and drew with Sweden and South Africa in its group, but then beat Brazil in its quarter-final. France had a tough match against Sweden but came out on top by two goals to one. The France-Japan match starts at 5 pm local time and will be followed by the USA against Canada at Old Trafford at 7.45 pm. A repeat of the World Cup final in which Japan upset USA is very possible.

Tomorrow the Asian presence will be even stronger when Japan plays Mexico and South Korea takes on the mighty Brazil. I fear for the Koreans who had an exhausting match against Team GB which went to penalties and they lost Kim Sangchoo with a broken arm early in the game. Brazil had its hands full with a rampant Honduras, who finished with nine men, but eventually won three-two. So the Selecao should get up. Japan at its best is capable of beating the skilful Mexicans who will be without Hector Herrera who scored their final goal in extra-time against a physical Senegal.

This tournament has been a marvelous showpiece for the East Asian teams and Australia’s men and women need to take note of the improvement in the standard of all of the teams from the AFC, including North Korea’s women who had a thrashing at the hands of the USA, but otherwise were very competitive. The investment in youth in Australia is very worthwhile but so far the results have not been as impressive as everyone would wish. But improving the skill level and confidence on the ball are the key to matching our northern neighbours.

With Team GB out of both men’s and women’s competitions at the quarter-final stage there will be less UK media interest in the culmination of the football tournament. That will be myopic on their part, and quite typical, because they face exactly the same deficiencies as Australia despite the much larger pools on which they draw. Because British athletes, cyclists, tennis players, rowers and sailors have done so well, the emphasis in the local media has been heavily concentrated on them. It is hard even to find a mention of Australians even though they have accumulated more than 20 medals. The lack of gold, till now, has not helped.

Luckily I have not had to worry too much about the other sports for football has been nearly a full-time activity as I have covered the games geographically from Glasgow via Newcastle, Manchester, Coventry and Cardiff en route to Wembley. The best may yet be to come here in London.

Captions for pics: Wembley Way. Photo: Roy Hay.

Inside an empty Wembley stadium. Photo: Roy Hay.

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