The pure pleasure of taking part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 has, with two matchdays gone, already given way to ambition as the Round of 16 begins to take shape.
Almost all of the teams in Groups A and B have something to play for, with the possible exception of Côte d’Ivoire, who have already lost twice and would require an unlikely set of circumstances to qualify for the knockout stages.
The Canadians have had a solid if unspectacular start to their World Cup campaign, beating China PR in the opening match of the tournament with a last-gasp penalty. But that goal, scored by the dangerous Christine Sinclair, is currently one of the reasons why the hosts sit proudly at the top of Group A, the other being their stingy defence, which has yet to concede a goal in 180 minutes of football.
If Erin McLeod can rack up another clean sheet in the Canadian goal versus the Netherlands, a place in the last 16 will be guaranteed.
The Dutch have also scored just once, but their 1-0 loss to the Chinese sees them occupy third spot, which would put them in a delicate position in the event of a defeat by Canada.
The Chinese could consider themselves unfortunate against Canada, but they made up for that disappointment with a similarly late victory over the Netherlands. Versus New Zealand, they will hope to get the points in the bag a little earlier and advance to the Round of 16, where they would be forgiven for starting to dream of following in the footsteps of their predecessors, who reached the Final in 1999.
The Football Ferns may only have one point to show for their efforts so far, but they are still in with a chance of advancing, possibly as one of the third-placed teams with the best record.
To do so, they will have to start hitting the back of the net, however, something they proved incapable of doing in their 1-0 reverse at the hands of the Dutch and in their scoreless stalemate with Canada, which featured a missed penalty from Amber Hearn.
In Group B, futures also hang in the balance, but it is hard to see past the experienced pair of Germany and Norway as they take on Women’s World Cup debutants Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire respectively.
The Germans, inspired by the tournament’s top scorer Anja Mittag, will still need to approach their match in a serious manner, because in the event of a surprise defeat, they would relinquish first place in the section, and possibly second spot as well, should the Norwegians win or draw their fixture.
Thailand picked up a hard-fought victory over the Ivoirians in their second match and may throw caution to the wind as they attempt to produce what would be a remarkable upset.
Les Eléphantes, meanwhile, conceded ten goals in their first match and three in their second. It is unlikely to get any easier for them when they take on Norway in Moncton, as the Scandinavians, sitting on four points, looked impressive in their match with Germany, earning a share of the spoils via a fantastic free-kick from Maren Mjelde.
The performances of goalkeeper Erin McLeod may have laid the foundations for Canada’s strong defensive displays, but she would likely have many more shots and crosses to deal with were it not for the displays of the hard-working Kadeisha Buchanan.
The Toronto-born defender, still just 19, has not only demonstrated perfect tackles, decisive clearances and accurate passes from the back, but she also poses a serious attacking threat at corners.
Dutch forward Viviane Miedema found the net no fewer than 16 times during the European qualifying campaign, a goal haul that saw her top the scoring charts and propel the Netherlands to the Women’s World Cup for the first time. Although she is yet to open her account in Canada, she may need to rectify that if her team are to advance to the latter stages of the competition.
Colombia’s shock win over France meant the South Americans had a “Beautiful Day”. Indeed, the South Americans were so little fancied going into the encounter, their win could even be described as a “Miracle”. Les Bleues are genuine title contenders and now find themselves in something of a tight spot going into the final group fixture against Mexico.
They will console themselves that “Some Days Are Better Than Others”. England avoided such a slip-up and picked up their first points by edging out Mexico, while Brazil became the second side after Japan to qualify for the knockout stages. One word can describe their performances so far – “Magnificent”.
Things were getting nervy for England as their match against Mexico entered the last 20 minutes. The Three Lionesses had missed some good chances and must have begun to wonder whether they would find a way past a valiant Mexican defence. They need not have feared though, as Fran Kirby was on hand to open the scoring with a neat finish and enable coach Mark Sampson to “breathe” a little easier. England have reached the quarter-finals on each of the last three global showcases and their eventual 2-1 win means they remain on course to repeat that achievement. After drawing 1-1 with Mexico in the group stage four years ago, this was a badly needed victory.
Brazil captain Marta and her Spanish counterpart Veronica Boquete are old friends, ever since they played together for Tyresö in Sweden from 2012 to 2014. Such is their friendship you could even say their “Two Hearts Beat As One”, and they were in touch by text in the days leading up to the encounter. Today though, it was down to serious business in Montreal, and after a warm Handshake for Peace and toss of the coin prior to kick-off, no quarter was given between these two fierce – but friendly – rivals.
“Just you watch, we are going to show everyone exactly how good we are”, said Camille Abily defiantly in her post-match interview in Moncton. The French midfielder was clearly not suffering from a case of “Vertigo” as she laid down the gauntlet to the other sides in Group F following her side’s shock loss to Colombia. The tireless Abily is right to accentuate the positives; after all, the fourth-placed side from four years ago have three points and only need a win over Mexico, on one point, on Wednesday to reach the Round of 16.
Korea Republic’s first appearance at the Women’s World Cup in 2003 ended in three defeats, in which they conceded 11 goals and scored just one. The Asian side’s 2-0 loss to Brazil in their opening match suggested their 2015 experience might not prove to be all that different. On Sunday (by Korean time, at least), the Taeguk Ladies believed that they had finally brought that undesirable run to a halt.
Leading 2-1 in the 89th minute versus Costa Rica, they could practically taste victory until Karla Villalobos equalised. The CONCACAF representatives are playing in their first Women’s World Cup and celebrated their draw as if it were a win. Their reaction was in stark contrast to the South Koreans, who struggled to hide their disappointment.
For the first time, a South American team other than Brazil got the better of a European side at the Women’s World Cup. Colombia’s achievement against France is all the more impressive given that it is only their second appearance at this level. At Germany 2011, where Las Cafeteras made their tournament debut, they exited at the group stage after picking up only one point in three matches.
NB: Sports Unlimited with Ben Alaiya is unavoidably absent. It is sure to make a return next week. Watch out!!