AS a football match, it was lamentably one-sided. The US national women's team (USNWT) at the Women's World Cup steamrollered an inexperienced Thailand team out of sight, scoring thirteen goals to the loss of precisely nil.

The Americans celebrated each goal joyously, as was their right. But, as ever on social media, there were many who eagerly called them out for an alleged 'lack of class', for rubbing the Thai players' noses in their grim misfortune - a misfortune, moreover, that was being watched by a television audience of countless millions.

But others leapt to the Americans' defence. Why on earth shouldn't they have the right to celebrate their superior skills? And, some asked, would the same criticism have been levelled at male players?

The issue was brilliantly addressed by Lindsay Gibbs, who covers sports on the progressive US news site, Think Progress.

She wrote: "The lopsided score launched a litany of conversations ... about sportsmanship, excessive celebrations, sexism, equal pay, and the lack of investment in women’s soccer globally. It’s clear that this USWNT performance — which was led by a World Cup record five goals by Alex Morgan — has gotten under people’s skin.

"But rather than trying to debate our way around the discomfort, perhaps it would be best to stew in it for a minute. Because the discomfort might just be the point."

It should make us uncomfortable, she said, that the inequities in women’s soccer "are so massive, that it’s not yet possible to have the field of a 24-team World Cup be competitive from top to bottom. It should make us queasy that many soccer federations don’t even convene training camps for women athletes, let alone arrange official friendly matches against quality opponents to enable those teams to build their ranking and develop their homegrown talent."

It should "turn our stomachs" that Team USA, the most successful women’s soccer team in the world, is still having to fight for equal pay. The players are currently suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination.

Gibbs also pointed out that the female players decided to take on such a big-time lawsuit right before the biggest tournament of their lives "because they knew that this is the only time in the next four years that they will receive this much attention. They need every ounce of leverage that they can muster, since U.S. Soccer is so hesitant to endorse equality. The U.S. women believe they must win the tournament to advance this larger cause. Because of that self-imposed burden, every match, every goal at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, takes on a heightened significance."

Referring to the celebrations that greeted all of the 13 goals, Gibbs made this telling observation: "There's also something refreshing about seeing women’s emotions in such a pure, unfiltered state, and seeing how much every single goal meant to these women, who have dedicated their lives to this sport, and still have to fight for so much every time they take the field."

At the end of the game, some US players, including Carli Lloyd, made a point of commiserating with the hapless Thai goalkeeper, Sukanya Chor Charoenying, on what was probably one of the worst nights of her life.

And in another touching moment, Alex Morgan sought out, in front of the cameras, the Thailand forward, Miranda Nild, to console her. Nild was born in Northern California and, like Morgan, played soccer while at the University of California, Berkeley.

The debate quickly widened. Is there anything that the men's game could learn from the women's game, despite the vast inequality in funding and wages?

Many pointed to the women's sportsmanship, to their respect for the match referees, for their general lack of prima donna behaviour.

“There are absolutely things that the men’s game can learn from the World Cup," Vivienne MacLaren, chair of Scottish Women's Football, said on Friday. "I think the biggest thing is the behaviour of the players on the pitch. Diving, play-acting, etcetera are very uncommon within the girls’ and women’s game. On the whole, most players are very honest and men’s football could certainly learn from this.

“While I appreciate it’s not easy in the men’s game, the family-friendly atmosphere at women’s games’ is a huge plus. Most games aren’t segregated and you find fans of both teams can sit together and enjoy the match. It’s maybe not something that can be ‘learned’ but I certainly believe it’s something to be aspired to.

“Finally, I also think there is an unmatched pride that these women have playing for their country," she adds.

"Knowing the Scotland players and the set-up, there isn’t one player who wouldn’t do anything to pull on that shirt. I think most of the men’s squad are the same but not all of them. Maybe that comes from the incredible amount of money players receive from their clubs, which is the complete opposite within the women’s game at the present time.”

On social media, to no great surprise, the women's World Cup has attracted criticism - much of it well-meaning, but large proportions of it sexist - but many men have voiced their support.

"Difference between men and women's football...women get up when they fall/get fouled unless they are genuinely hurt and not roll around, they don't fall to the ground so easy, they complain less to the refs, they get on and play," noted one Twitter user. "Just wished more men had the same attitude as the women, get up and get on with it.

"I'm not saying women don't do it," he added, "in general men do it more, women try to play fairly where as the men will try to play dirty and get away with things more than the women do. Woman's football doesn't get the credit it deserves, I'm only on about the style of play that's it 'cause I love men's football too. The women's game I've watched they are always trying to get back up when they can or stay on their feet but the men will go down at any opportunity."

"I tell you something. Men's football could learn a thing or two from the woman's game," tweeted a (male) Arsenal fan. "No rolling around in the floor faking injuries, not surrounding the ref screaming and shouting." A female Twitter user responded: "Yes!! Way too much of those two things in the men's game! Also, refreshing to see some fast-paced football (which sometimes gets replaced by '[Tiki-taka]' football in the men's game)".

"Do all these blokes ripping into the quality of the Women’s World Cup realise the women playing are miles better than any of them??" challenged yet another man on Twitter.

Another made the point: "Men's (and boys 15s') football relies on speed and strength to a greater extent than the women's game. If you actually watch the games, you'll see a greater use of skills (across more of the team) such as running off the ball into danger areas, reverse passing, better ball-trapping."

As Lindsay Gibbs concluded her article on Think Progress: "These women are not at the World Cup to instill a sense of comfort in those for whom nothing is at stake; they’re there to become champions, provoke change, and convince people to care about women’s soccer. There’s a long way to go in this tournament, but based upon how quickly they’ve provoked discussion, they’re right on target.

THE women's World Cup, which is being staged in France, has already proved to be an inspiration - on and off the pitch.

Michelle Owen, the Sky football reporter/presenter, tweeted enthusiastically: "A women’s World Cup on prime time TV. This would never have happened when we were kids, this is amazing. Please let this grow the women’s game here, we’ve a long way to go but we are getting there!"

One woman who responded to Owen wrote: "It's a start and may it continue to grow. I have a 5 year old daughter and this is another door opening for her if she wishes to play football etc. Negative comments are old-school Neanderthals end of."

In the aftermath of the US team's 13-goal demolition of Thailand, Alex Scott, who was capped 140 times for England and is now is a regular pundit for BBC Sport and Sky Sports. tweeted: "When I was 10, I was trying to do things watching the men's World Cup, watching the original Ronaldo doing stepovers. Tomorrow people will be waking up, seeing Alex Morgan do a touch like that, and they'll say 'that's who I want to be like'."

Other followers of the game have even been inspired by the sight of an all-female BBC panel discussing a particular match. "I feel quite emotional watching four women doing the half-time analysis," said one. "I've waited my whole life for this."

* Scotland play Argentina on Wednesday, kick-off 8pm.