USA’s draw with the Netherlands left the champs looking like the second-best team on the pitch for long stretches, and yet they remain in first place and only needing to avoid defeat to Portugal in the last group-stage match to advance.
On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being “sleeping soundly” and 10 being “running around the room screaming incoherently,” how much should be we panicking about USA’s form?
I’d say 2. It’s common enough for contenders to have rough patches during these tournaments, only to find their form later on when it matters.
How do you assess the match with the Dutch?
Contrary to my prediction in the last post, USA ran out the same starting lineup for the second game in a row against the team in orange. That turned out to be a bad thing, since the Dutch were breaching USA’s defenses with some regularity. The game turned when Lindsey Horan was given a hard foul by Danielle van de Donk and a shoving match resulted between the two players, who are teammates at Olympique Lyonnais. Horan came up with the better response a few seconds later, when she headed in the resulting free kick for the equalizer. After that, USA had the momentum and were unfortunate not to grab the winner.
What happens now?
The important thing is not to advance from the group but rather to finish first. To do that, USA will have to match or better Netherlands’ result in their group-stage finale against Vietnam.
Why must they finish first?
The second-place team in Group E will likely have to face Sweden in the round of 16. I still don’t believe in the Swedes after their 5-0 rout of Italy, but the team we saw in that game was likely the team people envisioned when they were picking the Blågult as a pre-tournament dark horse. They were clinical, efficient, and direct, and the final score could have been worse if Stina Blackstenius had been on target with her shots. It’s really weird seeing an Italy team look this panicky in defense. You’d rather face them or Argentina.
What’s next in their group?
Italy faces South Africa, a team that can’t seem to stand prosperity. The Banyana Banyana failed to protect an early lead in their 2-1 loss to Sweden, then coughed up a two-goal lead in their 2-2 draw with Argentina. The South Africans can still advance if they can just hold onto a lead and collect their first-ever World Cup win.
What else happened around the tournament?
France righted the ship with a thrilling 2-1 win over Brazil. All Les Bleues have to do now is take care of business in their last group-stage game against Panama. Speaking of which, Jamaica picked up their first-ever World Cup win by beating the Panamanians. They did it without star striker Bunny Shaw, too, who was suspended after her red card against France. (Like New Zealand, Jamaica’s women got a win at the World Cup before their country’s men’s team did.) Now for the bad news: Da Reggae Girlz probably need to beat Brazil in their last game to get out of the group stage. Still, a win at the World Cup is something to take back home regardless.
Didn’t someone else win their first World Cup game?
Morocco! After looking like they didn’t belong at this level while they were being crushed by Germany, the Atlas Lionesses picked themselves up and made Ibtissam Jraïdi’s early goal stick in a 1-0 win over South Korea. That was their first World Cup goal and World Cup win. Defensive anchor Nouhaila Benzina also became the first woman to play in a hijab at the World Cup, and she picked up the country’s first-ever World Cup booking for a cynical foul on Ji So-yeon to stop a breakaway.
What is the history of the hijab at the World Cup?
FIFA banned it in 2007, then reversed the ban seven years later, and the whole time it scarcely mattered because the Muslim countries’ women’s teams weren’t good enough to qualify for big-time tournaments like the World Cup or the Olympics. Benzina’s bit of history-making has made waves in France, where the domestic league still forbids women from wearing the hijab on the pitch.
Are coaches on the hot seat?
New Zealand crashes out as the first Women’s World Cup host ever to fail to advance from the group stage. The Football Ferns needed to beat Switzerland to get through, and Coach Jitka Klimková insisted on running three attackers at five defenders for the whole game. I’m shocked that that didn’t result in a goal. (Australia’s in trouble, too, after their upset loss to Nigeria. The Matildas must beat Canada to advance now. Sam Kerr can’t come back from her injury soon enough.) Also, Colin Bell blasted the South Korean league and his South Korea players after their opening loss to Colombia, saying they weren’t moving or thinking fast enough for the opposition. He is right about that last part, but their resulting loss to Morocco is a poor advertisement for his tactics, and he spent the entire game making faces like a movie supervillain whose minions keep screwing up his brilliant plans. The Koreans are still alive only because Colombia upset Germany.
In the most thrilling game of this tournament so far, Las Cafeteras ensured their progression to the next round and put themselves in position to top the group. Linda Caicedo scored one of the goals of the tournament that shows why everybody thinks she’s the sport’s next big star, but when Alexandra Popp converted an equalizing penalty in the 89th minute, it seemed like the Germans doing what Germans do. However, the Colombians then did what Germans do when Manuela Vanegas headed in a corner kick deep into stoppage time to win it.
Canada’s women players reached a tentative agreement with their soccer federation for better pay. They’re just one team whose women are feuding with their national federations, following USA’s equal-pay fight with U.S. Soccer four years ago. The players still aren’t happy with the arrangement, but the fight for equal treatment marches on.