Men against boys, women against girls | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 12.06.2019
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Men against boys, women against girls

Germany 8-0 Estonia, USA 13-0 Thailand. Men against boys, women against girls. What do such results tell us about where modern football is going? And is the gap widening between the game's haves and have-nots?

On Tuesday night, an epic contest was played out between Germany and the United States. At 20 minutes past nine, the score was locked at 7-7. Ten minutes later, it was 8-8.

But it wasn't basketball, it wasn't handball, it wasn't rugby and it wasn't the final set of a Davis Cup tennis match; it was two top-level professional football matches being played simultaneously, 350 kilometers (217.5 miles) apart.

By the time the final whistle had blown in Germany's men's 8-0 thrashing of Estonia in a European Championship qualifier in Mainz, the American women's team were also 8-0 up against their Thai counterparts at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

But there were still 15 minutes remaining in Reims, France, enough time for the Americans to put another five goals past hapless goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying and rack up a record 13-0 victory – and a virtual, long-distance 13-8 win over Germany's men – in a contest to see who could score the most on the night.

Now, perhaps the comparison is too far-fetched. Perhaps we shouldn't be comparing two results in different countries, in different competitions and arguably even in different sports. Perhaps all the two games had in common was their temporality.

Or perhaps not; perhaps there is something to be said about a widening gulf between the top teams and the rest in both men's and women's football.

FIFA Frauen-Weltmeisterschaft Frankreich | USA v Thailand (picture-alliance/Offside/C. Wilson)

The USA's win over Thailand set a new World Cup record

Women against girls

Such one-sided results can be explained better in women's football. The women's game globally is still developing so international tournaments are bound to throw up mismatches between nations which are at different stages of their professional development, particularly since the expansion of the Women's World Cup from 16 teams to 24 in 2015.

Tuesday night's Group F game between the USA and Thailand for instance saw a team of highly paid professional athletes (although arguably not nearly highly paid enough) from a nation which has had a fully professional league since 2001 take on a group of players who are reliant on their employment with a Thai insurance company to fund their training. And it showed, as the defending champions and No.-1 ranked team in the world simply scored at will.

It wasn't just a difference in quality either. The Americans were physically taller, stronger, faster and more athletic, winning headers and brushing off challenges with ease – a product of more professional training regimes.

There's also the question of attitude, with Thai forward Miranda Nild, who grew up in San Francisco, telling the New York Times earlier this year that her teammates lacked self-confidence – a result, she said, of a cultural hinderance in an otherwise progressive footballing nation.

Women's World Cup - Group F - USA v Thailand (picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Mori)

The USA's Alex Morgan demonstrates the technical superiority of the American team

"They are always afraid to hurt our feelings,” Nild said of the Thai coaches. "When they critique us, it's always sandwiched between compliments. Everyone really treads lightly around women players. That's different from what I'm used to. My college coach was always direct, [saying]: ‘This is what you're not doing well and you need to fix it.' In Thailand they shy away from what you are not doing well and focus on other things, which I think is probably our biggest loss."

As women's football continues to progress globally, it is possible that, with the right structures and frameworks, these discrepancies can still be ironed out to ensure more balanced competition. The men's game, on the other hand, is already fully developed and highly advanced, a situation which has seen the emergence of a different set of imbalances at both club and international level.

Men against boys

Domestically, Europe's top five leagues are increasingly dominated by an elite circle of super-rich super-clubs, resulting in an unequal concentration of quality and wealth among an exclusive group.

Even the fact that we talk about Europe's "top five leagues" is evidence of the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in European football, a gap which only widens with the top five leagues being granted automatic places in the financially lucrative Champions League – and perhaps soon in an exclusive European Super League.

The final rounds of this season's Champions League may have witnessed exhilarating football between the continent's best sides, but results in earlier rounds again demonstrated the gulf between the rich and the rest, with Barcelona thrashing PSV Eindhoven, Bayern hammering Benfica and Manchester City humiliating Schalke.

Fußball: Länderspiel 2019 - EM Quali - Deutschland vs. Estland (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini)

Thilo Kehrer, Leroy Sane and Marco Reus celebrate the first of Germany's eight goals against Estonia

Internationally, UEFA's new Nations League has been welcomed by smaller nations such as Gibraltar, San Marino and Andorra who can now compete against similarly sized nations rather than providing canon-fodder for the likes of Germany, as seen in Tuesday's 8-0 thrashing of Estonia.

The counter-argument, of course, is that equally unfancied Belarus restricted Germany to a mere 2-0 win just days earlier. The 2018 World Cup in Russia also saw a number of smaller teams make names for themselves with dogged defensive displays against tournament favorites, Iran against Spain, for example, or Costa Rica against Brazil.

Still, simply circling the wagons and shutting up shop should probably not be seen as an improvement in defensive tactics, but rather as a damning indictment of the gulf between the best and the rest. Such mismatches will only become more likely when the 2028 World Cup is expanded to 48 teams.

Attempting to correct the imbalances in men's football is a task akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. With plans for a European Super League not going away, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is likely to get wider still.

For the women's game, however, still at an earlier stage of its development, perhaps lessons can still be learned.

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