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Women’s World Cup 2019: Guardian writers pick their highs and lows

Louise Taylor

Match of the tournament England 1-2 USA. Yes, England lost and, on balance, they deserved to be defeated but it was tense and tight and a wonderful advert for the women’s game. An evening when many of those who have long patronised the sport were surely won over, with even the most stubborn refuseniks having to admit that it is rather good after all.

Player of the tournament Jill Scott. Admittedly she tired a little as England lost the third-place play-off to Sweden but the midfielder frequently held Phil Neville’s team together. It is no exaggeration to say that, without Scott, the Lionesses may not have reached the final four.

Goal of the tournament Lucy Bronze v Norway. An imperious, unerring, first-time, 25-yard strike. The look on the watching David Beckham’s face after he had admired its inexorable trajectory towards the top corner spoke volumes.

Personal highlight A tie between a taxi driver who recognised me in Nice airport and rushed over saying “Bonjour madame” and another in Paris who carried my case – at full gallop – to the correct station platform, enabling me to catch a train to Lyon with a minute to spare.

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Biggest disappointment Cameroon’s appalling behaviour as they lost against England in a game which turned into high farce. It was comedic at times but also a truly dreadful, and depressing, advert for the women’s game.

Fondest memory of France The consistent friendliness, politeness and helpfulness of virtually everyone I encountered. As someone who, bar the odd “Je suis désolé”, cannot speak French, that proved refreshingly stereotype-defying.

Lucy Bronze scored England’s third goal from long range against Norway.

Lucy Bronze scored England’s third goal from long range against Norway. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Suzanne Wrack

Match of the tournament In terms of atmosphere it has to be France v USA at the Parc des Princes. La Marseillaise sung in full voice at the start was spine-tingling and it was fiery from start to finish. For the match itself? The final, purely because the Netherlands were really impressive at holding the champions at bay for as long as they did, having looked defensively shaky throughout.

Player of the tournament It is obviously Megan Rapinoe. Plenty of players had great World Cup tournaments but no one matches the on- and off‑the‑field all-rounder. Using the biggest stage in the world to speak out on the issues she cares about while juggling the pressure to perform that that brings? Incredible. Megan for president.

Goal of the tournament Lucy Bronze’s rocket against Norway. It was beautiful. Capping a great performance, the way Bronze waited alone on the edge of the box and powered it into the roof of the net was magical.

Personal highlight Too many to choose. The England press pack have been a fantastic bunch to work with, for one. The final week in Lyon was by far the highlight. I got to go beyond the World Cup and take part in the Equal Playing Field World Record five-a-side match (dragging a motley crew from Phil Neville’s press conference to take part too) and then attending and moderating a session at EPF’s Equality Summit – a packed room of stellar influential women in football discussing the game, changes, challenges and more? Absolutely buzzing.

Biggest disappointment France. They are experienced at hosting major tournaments but you could be forgiven for thinking this was their first time. There was little hype, at alleged sold-out matches – semi‑finals and final in particular – it was frustrating to see as many empty seats as there were. Staff were overzealous (they confiscated my water because it wasn’t the right sponsor in close to 40C heat) and transport to and from stadiums was a nightmare.

Fondest memory of France Given the above … the fondest memories I will take from this tournament are of the people I was working with, the people I was socialising with, the brilliant Football Association communications team and the general playfulness of the England players.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates with the World Cup trophy, the Golden Boot and the trophy for best player in the tournament.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates with the World Cup trophy, the Golden Boot and the trophy for best player in the tournament. Photograph: BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Richard Parkin

Match of the tournament For pure momentum shifting it is hard to look past the Netherlands-Japan last-16 game. The Dutch started the first 30 minutes close to their imperious best but as the second half wore on the Japanese grew exponentially into the contest. Only another late VAR‑bacle could decide the match, one worthy of being played much later in the tournament.

Player of the tournament The big names and strikers often scoop the accolades at tournament’s end, but it is the midfield metronomes who best determine their side’s fortunes. When the USA are in trouble it’s the pure tenacity of Julie Ertz that sets the tone, while for the Dutch Sherida Spitse has added four assists to a near flawless display of passing, tempo-control and tackling.

Goal of the tournament For team goal, Japan’s against the Dutch – calm, clinical, creative. For feeling, Jamaica’s first World Cup goal – Havana Solaun, only just off the bench, sent brilliantly through by Khadija Shaw and finishing with aplomb.

Personal highlight Amid the wreckage of Australia’s Group C opening defeat rose the phoenix of one of the feelgood stories of the Women’s World Cup: Italy. After a 20-year absence Le Azzurre announced their arrival in the women’s game – passionate (Elena Linari’s anthem belting), ruthless (Barbara Bonansea’s cool tournament opener) and cultured (Aurora Galli’s finish against China).

Biggest disappointment Germany. There were questions marks over this squad, and injury to the playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan did not help. Riding their luck in game one as a pacy Chinese side comfortably got in behind should have been the canary in the coalmine, but then came that defensive showing against Sweden to blow the quarter-final.

Fondest memory of France After Australia’s “nightmare in Nice” against Norway my tournament was in effect over. To watch in among the crowd, surrounded by 53,000+ others, a game of the intensity, quality and excitement of USA v England was to witness the pure potential of the women’s game.

Wendie Renard scores for France in their quarter-final defeat to the USA in a game many felt would have been a fitting final.

Wendie Renard scores for France in their quarter-final defeat to the USA in a game many felt would have been a fitting final. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside via Getty Images

Kieran Pender

Match of the tournament England’s match against USA. The game had everything: great goals, VAR controversy, a missed penalty and a red card. But at its core the semi-final was a battle of two heavyweights playing some of the best football of the tournament.

Player of the tournament Who else but Megan Rapinoe? My respect for her grew tenfold when she fronted the press in the leadup to USA’s blockbuster quarter-final with France. The Twitter spat with Donald Trump was threatening to overshadow the match but, rather than hide from the issue, Rapinoe pre-empted the first question: “I’ll just address it head on and then we can get to the soccer questions. I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House with the exception of the expletive. My mom will be very upset about that.” All class.

Goal of the tournament It was perhaps not a goal for the ages but when Havana Solaun collected an incisive through-ball on the break before rounding the Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams and slotting home, the joyous celebrations of the small contingent of Jamaica fans in Grenoble said everything. For this Caribbean island to reach the tournament against all odds and then score their first World Cup goal – moments such as that make these tournaments special.

Personal highlight This is my third major tournament covering my native Australia, having followed the Socceroos at the Confederations Cup and World Cup. In that time, I had yet to see my homeland win. Then, in a comeback for the ages, the Matildas scored three goals in the space of 20 minutes to defeat Brazil. Truly, the miracle in Montpellier.

Biggest disappointment While smaller host cities got into the World Cup spirit – Valenciennces deserves a shout-out for its abundant tournament signage – in the larger cities it was hardly obvious that a World Cup was being staged.

Fondest memory of France I feel privileged to have had a ringside seat to a tournament that will, I suspect, be remembered as an inflection point for women’s football. The tournament has been far from perfect but over the past four weeks there has been a real sense among players, observers and fans of the significance of this tournament. In a world struggling to redress systemic gender inequality, the rise of women’s football is a force for good. That – and the 21 croissants I consumed – will be my fond memories from France.

Havana Solaun (centre) celebrates after rounding Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams to score Jamaica’s first ever World Cup goal.

Havana Solaun (centre) celebrates after rounding Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams to score Jamaica’s first ever World Cup goal. Photograph: Naomi Baker – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Sophie Lawson

Match of the tournament Italy 0-1 Brazil in the group stage. From the matches I covered, I always seemed to be in the wrong place, watching the wrong 22 players as another match from the same day brought about 90 scintillating minutes of football as I was left with some dishwater. However, when Italy and Brazil clashed in Valenciennes, it was a rare treat to see both teams so enamoured and keen to attack.

Player of the tournament Kosovare Asllani. The one-of-a-kind Swedish No 9 has been kicked up and down the pitches across France, running on fumes and driving ever forward for Blågult this tournament. Having matured an astounding amount between leaving and returning to the Swedish Damallsvenskan, this summer has seen Asllani remind the world just what’s she’s capable of.

Goal of the tournament After attending 21 matches, everything has unfortunately rather blurred together but Lana Clelland’s belter against Japan sticks out. Just 12 minutes into her World Cup debut, the Scotland striker was left in space in front of the Japan box with time to pull back and put her laces through the ball.

Personal highlight After I arrived at my hotel in Nice only to be told they’d given the room away, I popped up a frustrated tweet and immediately had 10 people message me offering to help. I was tired, sweaty and disgusting in every single way but in that moment I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the women’s football community.

Biggest disappointment That almost at every match (before kick off or at half-time) the stadium announcers would encourage everyone in the stands to engage in a Mexican Wave. Wholly unnecessary.

Fondest memory of France When I finally got to say goodbye to the Murder Basement when I left Paris to travel down to Lyon. It will not be missed.

Kosovare Asllani goes past Netherlands defender Desiree van Lunteren during the semi-final.

Kosovare Asllani goes past Netherlands defender Desiree van Lunteren during the semi-final. Photograph: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

Ella Reilly

Match of the tournament The Brazil v Australia group stage game. With Australia desperately needing a result to keep their knockout stage aspirations alive coupled with the fermenting rivalry between the two sides, this game had everything: spikiness, a comeback victory and a dash of VAR controversy.

Player of the tournament Megan Rapinoe. Partly because in games where the US haven’t looked as convincing as the standards they have set for themselves might demand, she’s been the player to pull them through. But also for how, with her candidness and her determination to use her platform and profile to consistently draw attention to the contexts and issues which affect the women’s game. So in that sense too she really has been the player of the tournament, a figure really transcending the sport.

Goal of the tournament Lucy Bronze v Norway. What a way to cap off a personal performance par excellence in that quarter final.

Personal highlight Seeing how this tournament has engaged people who ordinarily wouldn’t have bothered with football, and has helped to reframe how they see the game. I got chatting to a bloke who, after hearing I was in France for the World Cup, started to reply with “Speaking as a man…” (I inhaled and braced myself for a potentially awkward interaction) “…who has previously had no interest in football at all because of the theatrics and nonsense in the men’s game, I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks and have been making the effort to watch the games” (I exhaled and relaxed into the conversation thereafter).

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Biggest disappointment The difficulty of watching games if you couldn’t be physically at the stadium, particularly for the early stages. Not having games on free-to-air TV, and the reticence of many bars in host cities to show games unless prompted, particularly in the group stages, made seeing some games unnecessarily difficult and gave off the feeling that the World Cup was being tolerated rather than embraced in the way that the men’s tournament would be.

Fondest memory of France It’s difficult to go beyond the camaraderie and generosity of spirit of the fan groups and football communities coming together. For New Zealand’s opener against the Netherlands I found myself sitting in a very Netherlands-filled section of Stade Océane; a lone Kiwi in an Oranje sea. No matter. “If you lose, you have some shoulders to cry on,” one told me before kick off, and we commiserated at the final whistle.

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