All Eyes on France as Women’s World Cup Kicks off Tonight

first_imgSuper Falcons on arrival in France on Thursday The United States may be favourites to retain their FIFA Women’s World Cup title but the rapid development of the game globally means they will face a tougher field than ever before when the tournament gets underway in France tonight.Hundreds of thousands of tickets have been sold and world governing body FIFA is banking on the women’s game taking a huge step forward on the back of a successful tournament. The eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup will be contested by 24 teams in nine cities across France, with the hosts facing South Korea in the opening game at the Parc des Princes in Paris.The top two in each of the six qualifying groups will advance to the knockout stages, where they will be joined by the four best third-placed teams.The semifinals and final will be staged in Lyon, home to powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais, historically the most successful club in women’s football in France, with the showpiece match slated for 7 July.With a passionate home crowd behind them and a strong domestic league, the French will fancy their chances on home soil, while England, Australia, Germany and Japan will also hope to lift the trophy.Though France have a tough draw in group A alongside South Korea, Norway and Nigeria, they will look to win it outright to give themselves the best chance of an easy route through the knockout rounds.Former champions Norway will be without Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who has declined to play for the national side since the end of Euro 2017, citing disagreements over how the team is run.Two-time winners Germany will face off against China, Spain and debutants South Africa in group B, while Australia, Italy, Brazil and Jamaica are set to battle it out in group C.Despite their rich football tradition, Brazil have never won a World Cup or an Olympic gold medal, and with prolific striker Marta now 33, this may be the last chance for her to grab one of those elusive titles.There will be no shortage of sparks in group D where a strong England side have been paired with Scotland, Argentina and 2011 champions Japan, while European champions Netherlands take on Canada, Cameroon and New Zealand in group E.The Dutch slipped up in qualifying and needed playoff wins against Denmark and Switzerland to book their berth, but their potent attack will be keen to impress an army of travelling fans.The United States look to have secured a relatively easy draw with their first two games against Chile and Thailand, but Sweden will pose a problem in their final encounter, which is likely to decide the outcome of group F.As ever, discussions about gender equality will never be too far away, and despite the fact that FIFA has doubled the prize money on offer since the 2015 event in Canada, it has still come in for criticism.However, fans and players are expected to park those discussions, at least temporarily, when the action finally gets underway in Paris.TODAYFrance v Korea Rep. -21:00Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegramlast_img read more

How Justin Anderson came out of nowhere to be one of Angels’ better relievers

first_imgDENVER — When the Angels were trying to hang on to a two-run lead in the eighth inning against the team generally considered the best in the majors, and Mike Scioscia went to the mound and summoned Justin Anderson, many Angels fans no doubt had the same thought.Who the heck is Justin Anderson?The right-hander with the generic name had managed to spend a few years in the team’s farm system in relative anonymity, barely mentioned, if at all, by the prospect analysts.But, there he was, jogging in to the mound at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, near where he’d grown up, about to deal with some of the best hitters in the majors. Angels offense breaks out to split doubleheader with Astros Anderson then began the minor league season with three scoreless outings at Double-A, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he had three more scoreless outings. That earned him a call to the majors where, coincidentally, the Angels were playing in his hometown.After he got through his debut without allowing a run, he got the call again the next night, and he again put up a zero.He did it again and again and again, which has made Scioscia a believer.“He’s prepared long and hard for this opportunity,” Scioscia said. “Through trial and error, he’s figured out some things that will make him a more dynamic pitcher. … His stuff is real. He’s going to go out there and make his pitches and live with the results. It’s been impressive to watch.”UP NEXTAngels (Andrew Heaney, 1-1, 5.31) at Rockies (Jon Gray, 3-4, 4.99), Tuesday, 5:40 p.m., Fox Sports West, KLAA (830 AM). Jose Suarez’s rocky start sinks Angels in loss to Astros Clippers, Mavericks brace for the unknown in Game 4 Mike Trout, with bat and glove, helps Angels end losing streak center_img When he was done, after striking out Carlos Correa to strand two runners and protect a game the Angels would win, he had opened the eyes not just of the fans, but of Scioscia.Two weeks later, Scioscia admitted that Anderson really was picked for that game by default, because so many of the other best options were down for the day.“It was really by need that he was put into that spot,” Scioscia said this weekend. “And he responded so well that we were excited we can add to the depth of our high-leverage guys toward the back end of the game.”Anderson, 25, has pitched in seven games, and he didn’t allow a run in the first six. With a 99 mph fastball and a sharp slider, he has struck out nine in 6-2/3 innings.He has done it all while being tossed into the deep end, so to speak. He entered one game trailing by two. In all the others, he’s come in the seventh or eighth inning, with a lead of three runs or fewer. He has faced the likes of José Altuve, George Springer, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Correa. Angels’ Shohei Ohtani spending downtime working in outfield Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Although it’s very unusual for Scioscia to put a rookie in such high-leverage spots immediately upon his entrance to the majors, Anderson shrugs it off.“I am just looking at the catcher,” he said. “I’m not focusing on who is up at the plate. Just stick to the game plan and pitch to my strengths.”It’s worked, with the exception of a three-batter hiccup on Saturday, when he didn’t retire anyone and gave up a go-ahead two-run homer to Mike Zunino.So how did he come out of nowhere to gain such an important role in the bullpen so fast?The Angels picked Anderson in the 14th round of the 2014 draft out of the University of Texas-San Antonio. He was a starter initially, but his numbers were hardly impressive.In his first half-season as a professional, he gave up 26 earned runs and 40 hits in 29 innings, an 8.07 ERA. The next year, at Class-A Burlington, Iowa, he had a 3.41 ERA, but then in 2016 and 2017, he had ERAs of 5.70 and 5.06, respectively.Two critical changes turned his career around, though.Sign up for Home Turf and get 3 exclusive stories every SoCal sports fan must read, sent daily. Subscribe here.First, the Angels sent him to the bullpen in 2017, and that helped his velocity tick up from the low-to-mid 90s to the upper 90s. It was similar to the transition Keynan Middleton had made. In fact, Anderson was Middleton’s teammate, and he recalled charting Middleton’s pitches when his eye-opening transformation began in 2016.Despite improved velocity, Anderson was still getting hit, though. He also walked 31 hitters in 64 innings last year.That’s when Anderson’s agent, Jay Franklin, intervened.“You can’t keep pitching like this,” Franklin recalls telling Anderson. “You’re going to find yourself out of the game.”Franklin, a veteran of 10 seasons pitching in the minors, said he felt like he knew what was missing.“This guy’s stuff is really good, but he gets hit,” Franklin said. “The stuff is really good, but there was no angle. The fastball would be flat. The breaking ball would be flat. You have to have tilt and deception to keep those guys at the major league level off it.”So over the winter, Franklin invited Anderson to his home in Oklahoma, and they spent three hours a day, for three days, tweaking his delivery.“He broke me down,” Anderson said. “We didn’t change much mechanically. It was just one small little fix, but when we did that, we had to start from the ground up.”Anderson had given hitters too good of a look at the ball in his delivery before, which negated the fact that he was throwing 99 mph. He also couldn’t control it, hence the walks.With Franklin’s help, Anderson kept his shoulders closed to the plate a little longer in his delivery, which helped keep the ball behind him, hiding it from the hitters. A little deeper dip with the ball as he brought his arm back also created a little more movement in his pitches at the other end.The new delivery was also more repeatable, Franklin said, which helped him throw strikes.To the naked eye, the tweaks are small. The results – better deception, movement and control – have been significant.In spring training, the Angels noticed.Every day, a few pitchers from minor league camp are called up to big league camp to be available to fill out the last couple innings of exhibition games. Anderson got called up.Again and again and again.He came up six times, an unusually high number for a player from minor league camp, and he did not allow a run in seven innings.Related Articleslast_img read more