Japan and the United States are more than worthy finalists for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
The Japanese and Americans overcame loses in the opening round and finishing second in their respective groups, not to mention defeating difficult opponents in the quarter- and semifinals, to book their spots in Sunday's finale in Frankfurt.
So, full credit to them both.
However, the Americans' victory over France Wednesday not
only relegated Les Bleues to the third-place match, it also deprived fans of
the beautiful game from watching Louisa Necib, this tournament's best player, from competing on the big stage.
A quick look at the statistics show Marta's Brazil and Homare Sawa of Japan tied for first in the scoring race with four goals apiece. Lisa Dahlkvist and her three goals paved the way for Sweden to reach the semifinals, while Abby Wambach's late heroics in the U.S.'s last two games is the main reason why the Americans will have a chance to claim a third World Cup title.
Necib's name doesn't appear anywhere on the tournament's
list of goal scorers, but statistics aren't always an accurate reflection of a
player's influence, and the Frenchwoman's influence at the World Cup has been
Dubbed by the French media as the female Zinedine Zidane, Necib was largely responsible for France making it the semifinals in the first place. Her artful displays on the field and the way she pulled the creative strings in the French attack won her plaudits from opponents and neutral observers alike.
FIFA really should
come up with statistical categories to measure elegant possession, sublime
passing skills, and a cultured touch on the ball. Necib possesses all three of
those traits in abundance and it would be nice if she received the proper
accolades and recognition for her superb displays in Germany.
There is also a marked intelligence to her play. Necib has a great football IQ, knowing when to take a defender on one-on-one, how to find a teammate with a slide-rule pass, and how to exploit tight spaces to create scoring chances for herself and her cohorts.
All of this is bound in a modest package - despite being
heralded as her team's best player, Necib cuts a quiet and shy figure off the
field, and is almost embarrassed to the point of being uncomfortable when
pressed to talk about herself in media interviews.
It's just a shame that she has been denied the chance to showcase her considerable skills on the grandest platform in the women's game.
But at just 24 years of age, and with France an emerging
European power in the sport, Necib will be back in four years time when the
Women's World Cup is staged in Canada.
Genuine fans of the beautiful game are already counting down the days.
Follow John F. Molinaro on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/JohnMolinaro