The women's World Cup has been exhilarating and controversial in equal measure; a fortnight of highs and lows, and thrills and spills. Here's what we have learned during the first two weeks of the tournament.
1. USA the team to beat
They were the last team to get their World Cup campaign underway, but what a show they put on in their curtain-raiser. A record-breaking 13-0 victory over Thailand was a startling scoreline that reverberated around the world, and led to suggestions that the Americans showed disrespect to their opponents in the manner that they celebrated every single goal. That aside, the US have been a joy to watch in France with a brand of relentless, attacking football that few sides will be able to live with in this tournament. Spare a thought for Spain, their next opponents.
2. The 24-team format isn't great
We've been playing for almost two weeks and only 8 teams have been eliminated. And the identities of these teams, on the most part, could have been chosen before a ball was kicked. The 24-team format, where 12 group winners and runners-up are joined four of the best third-placed finishers, was tested at the recent European Championships and others and the same conclusion was reached then as now: it’s a glorified seeding system for the knockout stages. There should have been 16 teams followed by the quarterfinals.
3. VAR isn't working
The biggest problem of this tournament has been the application of VAR. It's disrespectful of FIFA to choose a World Cup as the testing ground for not only the technology but the new implementation of it, with goalkeepers now told that their already difficult task of saving a penalty will be for nothing if they dive an inch off their line. Has anyone at FIFA every tried this themselves? Offsides have been wrong, handballs have been unfair and far too harsh. It's been chaotic. VAR should be used to confirm the referee’s decisions, not make them, otherwise a very beautiful and simple game will be destroyed.
4. The best ever women's World Cup for quality
Most football fans are only casual viewers of women's football, such is the dominance of the men’s game. For fans who only drop in every four years for a World Cup, the quality on display is clearly miles beyond where it was even four years ago in Canada, let alone eight or 12 years ago. Technically and tactically, the first two weeks of this tournament have proved just how great the strides have been in the women's game. With greater investment and access to top quality coaching, the sky is the limit for women's football. Whether it can reach those heights is another issue.
5. Germany steady but unspectacular
Germany have gone through the gears since their nervy and uninspiring opening game victory over China, which was secured by Giulia Gwinn’s strike. Another slender win followed against Spain before a 4-0 thrashing of South Africa. Saturday’s last 16 game against Nigeria will be a step up and defensively Germany have been far from convincing. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s players have an unblemished record of three games, three wins, and none conceded but — and it's a big but — the loss of key playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan with a broken toe is a huge blow. Germany need her back if they’re to reach their peak as the tournament progresses, but will she make it?
6. Stadiums have been half empty
With the exception of the hosts' games, stadiums have not been full in France — disappointing given FIFA have been trailing this as the "biggest ever women's World Cup." Their bullish claim that over a million tickets have been sold and that only a few remain unsold does not correlate with the poor attendances seen so far, leading to questions of whose hands the tickets are falling into. With a lack of promotion for the games in the cities that are hosting them, there are more questions than answers for FIFA on this issue.