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Winners and whingers

No one has wasted any time in establishing their agenda at this Soccer World Cup,whether on or off the field.

In some cases, that involved emphatically asserting their dominance from the first whistle. And you don’t get more domineering than the veritable thrashing the United States inflicted on poor Thailand.

We knew the world champions were better than most but this was one helluva way to underline that fact. The 13-0 scoreline set a new record at the tournament, overtaking Germany’s mauling of Argentina back in 2007; their own highest had been 7-0. Star player Alex Morgan also tied the individual record for goals, with five.

Having barely sneezed at their goal, Thailand are far from the toughest opponents the US will face in the next month but the result should still be taken as a stern warning of their ruthless appetite for goals.

Which apparently is a sin in the genteel land of Canada. In what reads like a self-parody, former players Clare Rustad and Kaylyn Kyle declared how disgusted they were that their neighbours would dare to crack a smile en route to those shiny records.

“I just think they could have won with some humility and grace, and they just couldn’t manage to do that,” Rustad said in the post-game analysis.

“As a Canadian we would just never ever think of doing something like that,” agreed Kyle. “For me, it’s disrespectful,it’s disgraceful.”

For shock host Piers Morgan, having women commenting on games at all was where the real offence began. He put on a straight face, looked into the camera and said that an all-female panel of pundits was sexist. There’s nothing wrong with pointing that out, he said, because Jamie Vardy’s wife had said it first.

Anyway, back to the football.

France could hardly have put in a more impressive display themselves. The slick movement of the ageing but clever legs of Gaëtane Thiney; the X-ray vision of Amandine Henry — the hosts no doubt have the ingredients to brew something special.

Then there’s Wendie Renard. Should Renard ask for your lunch money you would be best advised to give it to her. She is a thug in every positive sense the word could ever hold. All she had to do was stand on her tippy-toes to rise above the hapless South Korean defenders and nod in two powerful headers.

It’s the kind of football England are trying to emulate but fall just short of. Nonetheless, they have gotten the job done so far. Nikita Parris put her hand up for the debate about the most exciting player but it was her penalty that will spark the most argument. What a relief that we’ve taken a break from complaining about video-assisted referees in men’s football to complaining about themin women’s football.

Ranting aside, the considered promotion of Phil Neville’s side has paid off in spades. The BBC reported that millions more viewers watched this match compared to the national team over in the Cricket World Cup. If there was ever any doubt that football is the people’s game…

Anyway, back to the football.

Elsewhere the play has been much in keeping with the status quo. Germany are imperious; Brazil are slick. Except in the case of Australia, who are failing in their last-ditch effort to prove they can be good at anything in 2019.

Keeping to the southern hemisphere, Wednesday afternoon brought Africa’s first win in the tournament. Nigeria were deserving winners and piled more sorrow onto struggling South Korea.

The West African strength they displayed in their second goal was particularly enjoyable to watch: the manner in which Asisat Oshoala and Chidinma Okeke basically charged through the centre of the pitch was physically satisfying to marvel at. As it stands, the Super Falcons look the likeliest from the continent to progress to the next stage.

Of course we’re just getting started and with the supposedly heinous Americans and the promising British among many others in action this weekend, expect the entertainment to continue.

Back to the football.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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