The Aussies kept their experienced players on the bench for the majority of the game but the damage was already done as Canada scored…
With the first section of the Women’s World Cup done and dusted, let’s take a look back at some of the more memorable moments of the group stage.
We saw incredible goals, shocking upsets and magnificent attendances, while co-hosts New Zealand created unwanted history and the Matildas had the nation on edge until a triumphant win on Monday.
Incredible crowds flock to stadiums around Australia and New Zealand
We’ll get to the on-field action soon, but first let’s discuss the incredible supporter engagement this edition of the Women’s World Cup has produced.
Along with 40,000 other people I was at Allianz Stadium for Colombia’s thrilling victory over the highly fancied German side. The Colombian supporters produced a vivid atmosphere throughout the night, but the noise after Manuela Vanegas’ stoppage-time winner was simply incredible – I would’ve loved to see a decibel reading.
The Matildas sold out grounds across the country, and there will be another 75,000 fans inside the cavernous Stadium Australia on Monday evening when Tony Gustavsson’s side battle Denmark for a place in the quarter-finals.
Gustavsson pulls win out of fire under enormous pressure
There was a real stench around the Matildas after the unacceptable defeat to Nigeria in Brisbane. All of a sudden, issues like the ousting of previous coach Alen Stajcic had come back to the forefront and questions were being asked about the current manager, the culture of the squad, everything.
Winning, of course, is the cure for everything in sport and boy did the Matildas get the job done at AAMI Park – an emphatic 4-0 triumph over Canada to seal top spot in Group B.
Momentum is now behind the Aussies, and with a week’s more rest, star striker and captain Sam Kerr will surely play some role in the knockout clash. Let’s see how far this Matildas side can go in their home World Cup.
Genius French ad right on the money
If you haven’t seen the Orange ad that used deepfake technology to subvert stereotypes about women’s football – mainly that it lacks the high-end skill of the men’s game – check it out below.
Granted, not every match showcased amazing skill and there’s understandably a big disparity between the top and bottom nations, but some of the football on show in the group stage was spellbinding.
A few personal highlights include Brazil’s awesome team goal finished off by Beatriz Zaneratto, Lauren James’ stunning strike from outside the area, and, of course, Linda Caicedo’s incredibly quick feet for her goal against Germany.
In terms of goals, though, nothing in the group stage beats this incredible hit, the only converted direct free-kick so far.
The ad isn’t saying the women are just as good as the men – and I don’t think many people are. Let’s just enjoy these athletes’ skill without the tiresome comparison.
Did FIFA expand too soon?
There are good arguments as to why the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams, but there was always concern about how some of the weaker nations would fare and that was validated with some very one-sided affairs. Does anyone want to see an established football nation beat up a minnow to the tune of 5-0 or 6-0? I know I don’t.
Sure, we do see blowouts in the men’s competition – Qatar, anyone? – but the gap between rich and poor is typically not as large as it currently is on the women’s side. With all due respect to everyone involved in those organisations, the results of sides such as Ireland, Haiti and Vietnam – with one point between them – give credence to the argument that expansion of the Women’s World Cup could have perhaps been pushed back.
But now the genie is out of the bottle, and considering FIFA’s obsession with improving their bottom line, the 32-team format is here to stay.
Football Ferns fall at the first hurdle
Women’s football, as a professional sport, is still in an era of upheaval. Standards and professionalism are improving across the globe, but it’s impossible to refute that improvements are typically much more obvious in traditional football hotbeds across Europe and South America.
For a nation of just over 5 million people, and where football has stiff competition from rugby league and the monolithic union empire, New Zealand has always punched above their weight in the men’s game.
With all this in mind, the Football Ferns faced a difficult task to qualify for the knockout stages out of Group A, also featuring European sides Norway and Switzerland. They came close – a 1-0 victory in the clash with Switzerland would have been enough to see them through to the round of 16.
But with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play all three group stage matches at home, concluding their tournament with a whimper in the 0-0 stalemate in Dunedin, it feels like a disappointing campaign for the Football Ferns.
Olympic champions create unwanted history
As much pressure as the Matildas were under going into the do-or-die clash with Canada at AAMI Park, Beverly Priestman’s side, despite needing only a draw to progress, faced much scrutiny themselves. A win against Ireland had set themselves up well, but even in that game they were behind to one of the weakest sides in the tournament.
Ultimately the pressure told, with Australia putting Canada to the sword with four unanswered goals, and Canada became the first reigning Olympic champions to be dumped out of the following World Cup in the group stage.
It’s the end of the line – in World Cup play, at least – for legends Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt.
Earliest-ever exit for world No.2 Germans
I think Alexandra Popp’s facial expression says it all here.
Canada’s fall from grace is one thing, but for one of the proudest football nations in the world a first-ever group stage exit in this World Cup is nothing short of a disaster.
Poor zonal marking from a corner undid Germany in the loss to Colombia, and failing to defeat South Korea was the final nail in their campaign, despite a 6-0 win over Morocco. Oh, and did I mention Morocco actually went through instead?
Clangers, hospital passes and blunders
On the opposite side of the coin from the dazzling skill come some less, shall we say, proficient moments. The plays the women involved would much rather forget, but thanks to high definition cameras, we never will.
Take a look at Chinese goalkeeper Zhu Yu’s comical attempt at coming out to collect an innocuous long ball.
And two in the same half of this game, with both Italy and South Africa’s round of 16 hopes on the line in Wellington. It’s moments like these that make you hope for a hole in the ground to spontaneously open up and swallow you.
One of my all age division 5 teammates would be admonished for such a ridiculous defensive header, let alone in a World Cup.