by Kirsten Whelan (Netherlands/New Zealand and Chile/Sweden) and Nicole Haase (USA/Thailand)
New Zealand 0-1 Netherlands
New Zealand came into this match off a somewhat surprising 1-0 friendly win over England, while the Netherlands, defending European champions, shut out an offensively gifted Australia side 3-0 in their last tune-up. New Zealand showed more or less as expected, with a clear defense-first focus. The Dutch had the bulk of possession, and did so with purpose, attempting to put the ball on net rather than simply pass it around for the sake of passing. Still, New Zealand's counters were organized in transition instead of simply relying on unsupported individual efforts, and the Dutch back line was exposed several times and lucky to come out of it unscathed.
What We Learned:
There's a delicate balance between the need to take shots and for good shot selection: The Netherlands' willingness to play through the middle of the park and put shots on goal was refreshing in a tournament that thus far has largely seen top teams dominate possession, without creating much from it. But while the Dutch nearly tripled their counterparts shot attempts, both teams only managed three on frame.
Diversify the attack: The Dutch tended to play the ball to the inside, which is something I've been wishing other teams would do more of, yet I found myself frustrated by the repetition as New Zealand kept most of its players behind the ball and was able to intercept plenty of chances without having to put in nearly as much work as they should've. At one point, Vivianne Miedema shot the ball directly into the five (5) white jerseys standing in front her in the box -- a shot that, shockingly, did not make it through. The Dutch have plenty of technical ability in tight, but they've also got speedy wingers with the ability to cross dangerous balls in, and they didn't seem to be blending these effectively.
Defense is important: We saw this earlier in the tournament with Australia, a team that was widely expected to overcome defensive issues by simply outscoring opponents and... didn't. A stingy defense can neutralize even the most potent attacks, and the Netherlands' defensive weaknesses were on full display this match. If the reigning European champions are going to contend, they'll need to patch up some holes.
Rebekah Stott: The New Zealand center back was kept busy by the Dutch attack, and did well throughout to keep some of the pressure off goalkeeper Erin Nayler, especially before the Kiwis effectively parked the bus late in the game.
Lineth Beerensteyn: While fellow substitute Jill Roord saved the day for the Netherlands with her stoppage time goal, Beerensteyn's headed pass made it possible by sending Nayler out of position, and she followed the ball into the goal, ready to tap it across the line if need be. Beerensteyn only spent a few minutes on the pitch, but made an immediate impact.
Shanice van de Sanden would like all the other contenders for best hair to know that they may as well give up and go home.
The Dutch fans brought trumpets and, after the late-game winner, closed out the match with a spirited rendition of DJ Ötzi's Hey Baby, which is apparently now a sporting classic.
New Zealand next faces Canada, a squad with whom they've traded plenty of coaches and have more familiarity than their sparse head-to-head record may indicate. The pair met in the group stage in 2015 and played to a nil-nil draw, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the result here is similar, given New Zealand's defensive style and Canada's tendency to lack scoring. Both teams will need a point out of this one to ensure a strong chance of advancing.
The Netherlands will take on Cameroon, whose quick counter-attacks could pose trouble if the back line isn't solid. The Dutch should be able to take the win, but it'll be a good test of their ability to finish against another team that tends to park the bus.
Sweden won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics. Chile is making its World Cup debut, after its athletes took matters into their own hands, creating a players' association and forcing the federation to revive its women's team, which had gone dormant due to a lack of institutional support. So it wasn't a shock that Sweden absolutely dominated play. What was more surprising is that the Swedes were kept off the scoresheet for more than 80 minutes. Sweden looked competent throughout, but not particularly creative and certainly not lethal, at least until relative newcomer Madelen Janogy came off the bench. A rain delay 70 minutes in also seemed to turn the tides, giving the Swedes time to regroup and figure out what wasn't working.
What We Learned:
A little creativity goes a long way: Most of this game was played in the Chilean end, and Chile only had a handful of touches inside the Swedish box throughout the entire 90 minutes -- the Swedes recovered easily on defense. So you'd think that a relatively safe match would be a good time for Sweden to take some chances with their attack and unleash some offensive creativity. As it was, their shots were mostly predictable and Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler was more than up to the task, and most of her saves weren't much of a challenge. I would've liked to see Sweden try playing with a bit more flair once they realized that what they were doing wasn't working, and wasn't going to beat a keeper of Endler's calibre.
The Chileans aren't just happy to be here: Chile walked onto the pitch with game faces on and proved that even if they're heavily outmatched in this tournament, they're here to play it out. It wasn't pretty, but for 83 minutes, it got the job done.
The super-sub is real: Much like in the earlier match, it was a late-game substitution that made the difference. Madelen Janogy injected much-needed energy and a push for goal that Sweden was sorely lacking, and she directly contributed to the game-winner before scoring a beauty of her own.
Christiane Endler: It was no secret going in that Endler was going to be Chile's star player at this tournament, and she lived up to the billing, withstanding everything Sweden threw at her for more than 80 minutes and demonstrating sound positioning to limit their chances throughout.
Madelen Janogy: Barely two minutes after stepping onto the field, Janogy was already in the mix and was instrumental in setting up teammate Kosovare Asllani's winning goal. Then, in stoppage time, Janogy scored a lovely goal, picking up the ball outside the box, beating a challenge, and cutting to the middle through two Chilean defenders before getting off a strong shot for just her second ever goal with the Swedish team. The 23-year-old proved to be the spark Sweden desperately needed in this match.
Hanna Glas: The Swedish right back didn't have a lot of defending to do, but she had some nice touches going forward and helped set up some of Sweden's most dangerous chances, without ever taking herself too far out of position.
FIFA never plays the full Chilean anthem, and it's become tradition for the team and its fans to belt out the final verse after the recording stops. In their Women's World Cup debut, they didn't disappoint:
In game three Sweden will take on the U.S., currently fresh off a 13-0 trouncing of Thailand. Sweden's defence didn't face much of a test today, so it's going to be tricky carrying any sort of lessons into game two against the Thais. It's not clear how much they'll learn from that one, either, though they'll at least look to capitalize on more chances and build some scoring confidence.
Chile is going to count once again on full-team defending and rely heavily on Christiane Endler as it attempts to avoid Thailand's fate against the Americans. In game three they'll match up with Thailand, with a real chance of earning a win in their first ever World Cup. We didn't get to see much of Chile's attack today, but their defense is backed up by world class goalkeeping and they've got some quality strikers up top.
The Discourse on this one started before the game was even over. We'll have something up here on Victory Press soon talking about running up the score and the reactions, but right now, let's focus on the game. Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, and Lindsey Horan each tallied their first World Cup goal. The fun was in the details on this one, as we got to see Kelley O’Hara float the perfect pass to Alex Morgan, who headed it in for the first goal of the game. The Americans had to wait awhile to enter the fray of this tournament and however you feel about the score line, there's no denying they announced themselves with an exclamation point. No one seems quite clear on which team is the favorite to win it all, but the US certainly made a convincing argument that they're not concerned about a letdown. It's pretty impossible to be ambivalent about Team USA right now.
What We Learned:
Not A Whole Lot: There are still plenty of questions that linger for Team USA and they certainly weren't answered with any type of authority today. It was great to see Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan score and look comfortable today as both are returning from injuries and if the team will be successful, both have to be at the top of their game. But the team was never tested on defense today and it's easy to look like a genius in this situation, so what to think of Jill Ellis' lineups and whether the team can hold it together for a month of games is still up in the air.
We Don't Have To Be So Darned American About It: Listen, wherever you fall in the debate on running up the score, that too many US fans were bloodthirsty and obnoxious has to be said – there were chants of "WE WANT 10!" when it was still 3-0 at the half. Whether or not it was "right" or "okay" isn’t even necessarily the point. Too many fans today were unwilling to even wrap their head around the optics of American nationalism and its ramifications on and off the pitch. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the game and supporting the team, but I know I'm going to have a difficult time being both a Team USA fan and being aware of what being an American means right now.
Alex Morgan: Her five goals led the Americans and finding the back of the net and looking more like the "Baby Horse" of old had to be a pretty incredible feeling for Alex. She seems to have fought her way back to her comfort zone, so seeing her score in a number of ways and find her way to the right spot pretty much every time was heartwarming and reassuring.
Kelley O'Hara: O'Hara was the team's most impactful player that wasn't on the scoresheet. She was all over the field and displayed the relentlessness that the team is going to need against Sweden and others. She's such a force. She had the perfect touch on the pass to Morgan for the first goal and then a few minutes later came from off the screen to execute a slide tackle and that sequence pretty much defines why she's such an impact player. She's silly and funny and weird and also incredibly focused and intense on the field. She's got the softest touch and the shut-down, closing instinct. I really hope we see more of this Kelley over the course of the tournament.
Good, bad or otherwise, the way the whole team celebrated each goal and goal-scorer bodes well for this squad in terms of their chemistry and connection, on and off the field. These women are fighting for more than just the World Cup trophy and that they seem incredibly close to each other says a lot about what they've been through and what they can weather.
What's Next? :
The Americans carry momentum and a lot of expectations into a game against Chile on Sunday, while Thailand meets up with Sweden, who'll have the US result on their mind. It's a slightly tougher test for the US and we should begin to get a better idea of how the squad is working together. Folks love a Narrative and if it wasn't the score, it would have been something else, but Team USA has to stay focused and not let any of the outside stuff be a distraction. Thailand regroups and figures out what it takes to go back out on the pitch for another tough matchup against a more potent offense.