By 90Min
June 22, 2019

From FranceSo, that was the group stage that was. Five teams through without dropping a single point, five teams eliminated without earning one. Records were broken, and there was only one 0-0 – curse you, Japan and Argentina. 

However. Once we get to this point in the tournament – any tournament, really – there's one or two prevailing narratives forcing their way through. In France, there's one. The goalkeepers are absolutely on fire. 

The history of women's football is littered with people, often people who don't watch it much, saying 'ah, but the goalkeeping,' so let's be very clear here. This isn't 'the goalkeeping has been unusually good for the women's game'. This is 'the goalkeeping has been unusually good, full stop'. 

What's new is the wide spread of places that the outstanding goalkeeping is coming from – with Chile's Christiane Endler and Argentina's Vanina Correa putting in Player of the Match performances in losing causes, while Ayaka Yamashita and Karen Bardsley went toe-to-toe in the final game of Group D. 

Speaking to Bardsley after that game, in which she made one of the saves of the tournament from a dipping free kick headed for the very very top corner, it was clear that the keepers pay attention to the chat. 

"Everyone's been bagging on us for so long, it's like 'ah, we'll show you'. It just goes to show how much the women's game has improved over the years. There's outstanding goalkeepers, fantastic reaction saves, the Argentina goalkeeper was outstanding – I was impressed! Football's just getting better."

Bardsley and Correa are both veterans of the game, 34 and 35 years old respectively, and have come through the years of denigrating female goalkeepers and now – perhaps – out the other side. 

Meanwhile, Yamashita and Endler are the next generation. Fearless, unaffected by the baggage of years gone by. Women's football needs more players like them, and will have them. 

England's second choice stopper Carly Telford called for continued increases in funding for goalkeepers in the women's game when speaking after the Lionesses' win over Argentina, saying: "The Argentina keeper was fantastic, we've had a couple of good performances from keepers here. 

"I think the standard has improved again, and it's only going to go up from now. The way the women's game's going, more professional, more investment in the goalkeeping area, you're only going to see performances getting better. There are nations that are struggling and are 5-10 years behind some of the teams who have had the investment, but that's to be expected."

Bardsley also backed the impact of coaching on improvements in the game, adding: "My goalkeeping coach has certainly helped my game evolve, from a relatively old school style to a more modern style of goalkeeping. There's a lot of different techniques incorporated from handball, futsal, that sort of thing."

Of course, there is an elephant in the room. An elephant with one foot sat firmly on the goalline. 

The re-tightening of the rules around goalkeepers coming off their lines while taking penalties saw three spot kicks (one missed, two saved) re-taken and scored in the group stage. Scotland's Lee Alexander was a hair off her line when she was penalised against Argentina, and her side went out of the tournament as a direct result. 

Pundits and fans – and a couple of coaches – have spoken out against the application of the rules, with some criticising FIFA for using the biggest event in women's football as a testing ground for new regulations. 

Bardsley gave an insight into the players' view, saying: "I don't really have an opinion on VAR because, fingers crossed, nothing's really happened to us, but it just seems cruel. It just seems really really cruel, and so pedantic. We were briefed by the referees regarding VAR and they did mention the rule, but...

"We don't really think about it when we're saving penalties. For something so new to be introduced on such a big stage is kind of hard to get your head around in terms of changing habits. I don't think a lot of people are thinking about it in the moment."

The best 16 teams are still in the tournament. The quality's only getting better from here. 

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