Germany 1-0 China
The first match of the morning started off slow, with Germany looking tentative at the start, and at points, devolved into sweet, sweet chaos. Germany's strong possession and wide play met with China's incisive counterattacks and highly physical defending. At times, things looked pretty even, with Giulia Gwinn's 66th-minute stunner separating the two. Most surprising? Both squads' marquee players – Dzsenifer Maroszán, Alexandra Popp, Wang Shuang – underperforming compared to high expectations.
What We Learned:
- Urgency matters: Although Germany out-possessed the Steel Roses in the first half, there were moments where China looked the more dangerous side, capitalizing on giveaways and lapses and getting some good looks.
- There's a line between a physical match and an uncomfortable one: First of all, after this match, I don’t want to hear anyone complain that it's "not as physical as the men's game" ever again. The Steel Roses in particular played a tough, assertive match, one that saw a number of players for both sides go down hard – some, like Alexandra Popp, multiple times. This match sat more on the side of "physical" than "uncomfortable," the consequence of two different styles of play colliding, but some of those falls still were cringe-inducing.
- #Pray4WangShuang: The Paris Saint-Germain star, known as "Lady Messi" in China, did not enter the match until the second half and even then, was not her usual stellar self. Teams are more than the sum of their parts, but watching the Steel Roses give away the ball and come oh-so-close on the few dangerous chances made us think about what could have been with a fully fit Wang in the starting XI. Here's hoping she recovers and we get to see more of what she can do.
- Giulia Gwinn: After a frustrating first half for Germany, it was the 19-year-old winger, on just her eighth cap and senior tournament debut, who finally broke through. But even before her expertly-placed wonderstrike, Gwinn would probably still be on this list. While Germany's usual attackers like Maroszán and Popp struggled in the bulk of the match, Gwinn stepped up, playing with much-needed pace and urgency and winning some valuable set pieces.
- Svenja Huth: Like Gwinn, Huth stepped up where some of her teammates may have been more subdued in terms of controlling the tempo of the match. She was probably the strongest player for the Nationalelf for the bulk of the first half, creating necessary chances and placing herself where she needed to be pretty much the whole time. Also, look at her meeting this goat. Y'all.
- Yang Li: In the first half of the match, Germany had more chances, but China's chances looked stronger, so if you're into quality over quantity, Yang Li is your player. She produced some solid counterattacks, connected well at times with Wang Shanshan and was responsible for China’s two best offensive moments of the whole match. If she can just finish some of those chances, China will have an easier time sailing past the group stage.
- China's supporters' drum section ruled. Could hear them on the broadcast throughout most of the match.
- Shut up, Alexi.
Each side's toughest match of the group is out of the way now, which must come as a relief, and both have a fairly easy pathway to the next round. On Wednesday, Germany faces a Spain squad that sit pretty at the top of the group now, but looked very beatable against tournament debutants South Africa. China will try to make up their one-goal differential against the Banyana Banyana on Thursday. Expect both to still make it out of the group when all is done, but perhaps not as breezily as they thought.
Spain 3-1 South Africa
Both squads came into this match with a lot to prove – Spain wanting to showcase the ongoing work of improving their women's side, South Africa making their first ever World Cup appearance. And the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story of either side's prowess. The first half was all about the Banyana Banyana, buoyed by Thembi Kgatlana's gorgeous golazo. A handball call via the new handball rules on Janine Van Wyk and a less dubious studs-up challenge by Nothando Vilakazi led to a pair of penalties that Jenni Hermoso successfully buried, and Lucia García scored on a breakaway in the dying minutes to give Spain the victory. Bad luck and costly errors cost South Africa their first World Cup win, but it made for a hard-fought and exciting debut.
What We Learned:
- Don’t skip "underdog" matches. It's easy to write off World Cup debuting squads or even those that just lie outside the five or six big favorites. But even with the penalties and Spain having some disorganized moments, this was still a high-scoring, momentum-shifting and hard-fought match. Sorry if you missed it.
- Thembi Kgatlana: The 2018 African Women's Footballer of the Year made her mark on the Banyana Banyana's World Cup debut. Her masterful rocket of a goal in the 25th minute gave her squad their first World Cup goal and their first World Cup lead, and cemented the momentum on the side of South Africa for the first half.
- Andile Dlamini: "Are you seriously going to count a goalkeeper who conceded three goals in her World Cup debut among your standouts?" Yes. Yes I am. Although Dlamini couldn’t block Hermoso's razor-sharp penalty-taking, she kept La Roja at bay for the first two-thirds of the match and came up with nine saves (six in the box, two in corners), some of them high-flying, heart-pounding ones too.
- Jenni Hermoso: She got the job done for her squad when they needed it on the two penalties, but Hermoso proved she could do it all, providing some more dangerous moments on the attack outside of set pieces and showcasing some gorgeous passing, both to herself and then to Lucía García for what could have been yet another goal she's responsible for.
- Do you think Janine Van Wyk and Thembi Kgatlana ever get into spirited debates over who has awesomer hair?
Even with Spain at the top of the group, both of these sides are underdogs to advance to the knockout stage. Even in form and with improvements, Spain will have trouble getting past Germany on Wednesday. The Banyana Banyana will have their work cut out for them if they hope to hold on against the two toughest sides in their group, but expect them to continue to deliver some stellar highlight reel moments along the way.
Norway 3-0 Nigeria
Most of The Narrative around Norway prior to this World Cup has been about their marquee player who was not there, but the Grasshoppers still breezed through their first match of the tournament, which was, at times, difficult to watch. After a pair of rapid-fire goals from Norway, an own goal from Osinachi Ohale spelled the death knell for the Super Falcons, and Nigeria backline mainstay Faith Michael was stretchered off after a gut-punch of an injury. Norway has to be happy with that result ahead of facing a dominant France, but where was the joy?
What We Learned:
- There is no joy in watching an enjoyable side get routed: There were plenty of moments of brilliance for both Norway and Nigeria in this match, and Nigeria were better than the scoreline may indicate. But it was devastation all the way around, from the deflection for a goal to Ohale's own goal to Michael being stretchered off. You want to see hard-fought matches and both sides bringing their best, and lopsided matches are bound to happen. But, man, is it devastating when it does.
- Ada Hegerberg Owes You Nothing: "Shut up, Alexi" may have to start becoming a regular feature with these recaps. The Fox Sports roundtable took Norway's absent star striker to task for her protest, finger-wagging about lack of specificity in her demand and accusing her of hijacking Norway's moment like she' the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 and Norway is Laganja Estranja.
Anyway, someone tell the washed-up dude from your college rock band to stop demanding additional emotional labor from a Ballon d'Or winner. This is a thing that women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, pretty much any marginalized person who has ever taken a very public, career-altering stance on a systemic problem has had to deal with. She is a public figure with a very large platform, but imagine if the Fox Sports pundits dedicated their time and resources to talking about the systemic problems of gender disparity in soccer federations instead of WHY GOOD SOCCER LADY MAD? Also, she's definitely talked about her reasons for the departure to English-speaking media here and here, so why they are confused is beyond me.
- Caroline Graham Hansen & Guro Reiten: Peanut butter and chocolate. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten. Both players put on a clinic in Reims, with Graham Hansen destroying everything in her path and beautifully setting up Reiten's goal off a short corner, opening the scoring. Reiten had plenty of moments of her own, including a blistering opening goal and an assist to serve Lisa-Marie Utland's rocket that found its way into the corner of the net.
- Francisca Ordega: Hopefully now you know the name if you didn’t before, and not just because of the purple hair. Ordega brought necessary dynamism, speed and work rate on the right side and was the Super Falcons' most exciting player on the pitch. We can't wait to see more of her in the next two matches. Also, to the folks on Twitter who were pearl-clutching over Ordega's badass technicolor hair and wearing of makeup on the pitch? She also owes you nothing. Stay mad. Go watch a sport where all the players are aesthetically boring and repressed.
- Best kits in the tournament. Best entrance choreography of the tournament. Super Falcons. Nigeria still wins cool points forever.
Norway will get a boost of confidence on the heels of this match ahead of their toughest opponent on Wednesday, a France squad that looked to be the team to beat on Friday. If they can get through Wednesday relatively unscathed and still fit, they’re a lock to advance.
Nigeria may be able to make up some ground against South Korea on Wednesday, especially if star forward Asisat Oshoala is able to shake off today's result and play like her old self. But the chance of this squad being able to hang in there with Les Bleues is looking rather slim if today is an indication. At least give Franny Ordega a goal, Soccer Gods.