England and Sweden lead the way with post-match gestures at Women's World Cup

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England and Sweden lead the way with post-match gestures at Women
England and Sweden lead the way with post-match gestures at Women's World Cup

Sweden midfielder Kosovare Asllani had every reason not to hold back on Sunday evening.

The European nation were through to the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals. They were one step closer to avenging their 2019 World Cup semi-final loss in France. Most pressingly, however, was that they had just forced the reigning world champions USA to reschedule their flight home out of New Zealand – and simultaneously dished them their worst-ever Women’s World Cup finish in the history of the tournament.

Asllani, who had spent the better part of 80 minutes jostling with American defenders Naomi Girma and Julie Ertz, could, and arguably should, have gone to town on a country whose pre-tournament hype advertisement claimed the summer’s showpiece event was another inevitable chapter of USA vs the World. Instead, Asllani took the opportunity to defend the team she’d just helped dump out of the tournament.

“I wouldn’t say they’re out of the game at all,” a defiant Asllani informed media when queried on the future of the USWNT on the international stage. “I think you should be proud of your team. You have a really good team, and really good players, and they are taking on the fight not just on the pitch, but off it.

“So don’t talk **** about the US women.”

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Canada, Brazil, Germany and the USA. Four superpowers from four continents are now out of the Women’s World Cup, making way for one of the most thrilling and unpredictable finales in the history of the tournament.

Never before have the margins been so thin. If the mere millimetres between USA goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher’s line and Linda Hurtig’s converted spot kick wasn’t an apt enough metaphor for the microscopic distances at play, the overturning of longstanding hierarchies on an almost daily basis offers even more evidence.

England and Sweden lead the way with post-match gestures at Women's World CupKosovare Asllani and Julie Ertz during Sweden's Round of 16 victory over the USA (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Yet, perhaps the greatest testament to the tournament’s unprecedented quality and consequent volatility can be found, surprisingly, in the summer’s post-match scenes.

Asllani's comments were dovetailed on Monday by the scene of England’s Alex Greenwood and Euro2022 hero Chloe Kelly swiftly rushing over to the inconsolable Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie after Kelly’s triumphant spot kick sent England through to the quarter-finals.

Rather than cavort with the rest of their teammates upon their advancement, Kelly and Greenwood chose to stave off the curious glare of BBC cameras as they checked on Nnadozie, who lay on the grass crying with her gloves over her face after Nigeria’s sensational World Cup run came to a crashing halt on penalties.

The gesture was not in isolation on Sunday. After co-hosts Australia overcame Denmark in their last-16 encounter, rather than celebrate not only another step towards potential World Cup glory, but the return of taliswoman Sam Kerr who made her first appearance at the World Cup in the 80th minute after overcoming an earlier calf injury, the Matildas were spotted instead hugging their Danish counterparts.

The displays of gamesmanship have been lauded across social media, but they are also testament to the heady competition at work in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil and Germany’s early exits, in tandem with shock defeats and draws across the competition’s gamut, have served as crucial portents for teams not to take their positions for granted.

England were reminded of the precarious nature of this summer’s tournament as Nigeria thumped the crossbar twice in regular time and forced the Lionesses down to 10 players in a nervy knockout tie.

And while the European champions were not forced to reckon with a similar nadir as USA or Germany, the various post-match gestures speak to the players’ acknowledgement of the margins and their awareness that the chances of winding up on the wrong side of them have never been greater.

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Megan Feringa

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