by Nicole Haase (Nigeria/Korea) and Kirsten Whelan (Germany/Spain and France/Norway)
Nigeria 2 – 0 Republic of Korea
Nigeria bounced back after a disappointing showing against Norway in their
opening match with a solid win over Korea. The game was evenly
matched for much of the game, but Nigeria showed where they are most
dangerous when they used a transition game to set their opponent on their
heels. The Super Falcons took advantage of their pace and some world-class
strikers up front. The first goal was an own goal, but still came on counter-
attack and the ensuing confusion and scrambling to cover led to the goal.
Nigeria seemed to find their comfort zone and were playing the game they
wanted to be playing. The win was solid and sets them up to make more of the
rest of the tournament.
What We Learned:
- Possession isn't everything: Korea Republic had the advantage in shots, shots on goal and possession, but were felled by two stellar counter-attacks by Nigeria. The collective vision of the Super Falcon players and the ability they had to move the ball forward and cut through their opponents with some beautiful passes while in transition was simply the difference in the game.
- Finishing school. The Super Falcons were simply much more dangerous with their chances. Nigeria's young goalie played well, but she also wasn’t really challenged. There was a lack of pace on the ball and most everything went directly to Chiamaka Nnadozie. Though Korea mostly played the
game they wanted to play, they were rarely actually a threat in front of the net.
- Asisat Oshoala: And it’s not even close. The 24-year old showed why she’s a
three-time African footballer of the year in numerous ways, but most especially during her goal late in the game. At times throughout the game her touch was just slightly off, but on that play, she showed the instinct – and speed – that helped her win the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup. The Barcelona FC striker is a big reason we may see the Super Falcons in the round of 16.
- Ji So-yun: The all-time leading scorer for Korea Republic at times looked like she was trying to will her team to do more. She seemed to be in on every 50-50 ball and at one point looked as though she might be banged up, though she played the rest of the game. She really seemed to be all over the pitch.
- Chiamaka Nnadozie: Though I mentioned she wasn’t tested too much, I
was still impressed with how the 18-year-old Nigerian goalie played. This was essentially a must-win game for the Super Falcons, so the pressure was not insignificant and she held her own in the box and showed the composure they'll need in net.
- Those shadows on the pitch in front of the net at the Stade des Alpes in
Grenoble are brutal.
- With today's goal, Asisat Oshoala became the second Nigerian to score in two different Women's World Cups. She joins Rita Nwadike, who did it in 1995 and 1999.
If they beat France, Nigeria is automatically through to the knockout rounds, but with today's result, they're also likely in as one of the four best third-place
teams. They'd not scored in the World Cup for more than five hours of game
play and had lost three straight. This is the kind of boost they needed to
remember what they're capable of. With the loss, Korea's final game
is probably moot, though they can help out plenty of folks by holding Norway
Germany 1-0 Spain
I thought this was going to be one of my favorite games of the group stage, but in reality, it just felt tedious. That's really all I can say about it. Germany netted a scrappy goal in the dying minutes of the first half and that proved to be the difference as Spain reminded us all that they really like to pass.
What We Learned:
- Dzsenifer Marozsan is very important: We knew this already, but it's worth restating, because Germany's attack felt especially lacklustre without Marozsan dictating play from the middle of the park. They struggled to maintain possession and their passes were often off the mark. I'm not sure who I was cheering for in this game, but I sure am rooting for a quick recovery to Marozsan's broken toe.
- You miss 95% of the shots you don't put remotely on frame: I would've said 100%, but Wendie Renard proved later in the day that sometimes, even if your shot isn't going towards the net, you get by with a little help from your opponents. Spain dominated possession, often collecting long balls from their own end rather than building from the back. They took 16 shots, but only two of those were on frame. At a certain point you've got to create something from all that possession, or at least take advantage of the set pieces garnered by some of those shots. Spain did neither.
- Lucía García: García came off the bench early in the second half, and I liked what she brought to Spain's offense, which mostly means that I appreciated that she seemed to have some desire to, well, play offense.
- France is apparently very rainy this time of year!
Germany hasn't allowed a goal yet, but given their vulnerability in the midfield, I am interested to see if South Africa's quick transition can capitalize. The Germans have already secured top spot in the group, so it'll be worth watching whether they switch up the line-up to rest some of their key starters.
Spain versus China is going to be crucial for both sides in a wide-open group. Neither team is guaranteed to advance at this point, and the team that winds up second in this group will likely face the U.S. in the knockout round, which hardly seems a reward. It leads to the age-old question: do you try to maneuver the result and hope for one of those third-place spots, relinquishing control over whether you actually advance, but knowing that at least if you do, you'll get a more favorable match-up? Or do you play to win and accept your unfortunate fate (and maybe choreograph some extravagant goal celebrations, just in case)?
France 2-1 Norway
Both sides came into this one off of comfortable clean sheets, with the expectation that it'd be their toughest challenge of the group stage. Norway put real pressure on the hosts -- particularly in the scoreless first half -- and it made for an entertaining match overall, despite the Norwegians' failure to net a goal of their own, instead earning their lone tally off a truly bizarre tap-in own-goal by French center back Wendie Renard.
What We Learned:
- Norway's for real, ish: Norway actually had more possession, more passes, and a higher pass accuracy rating in this match, which was not what I expected to see going in. France has often been known for its strong possession game (which has had a tendency to lead nowhere), so that's impressive, even if France still looked the better and more dangerous team for much of it. That said, Norway crashed out of the 2017 Euros without a goal, and they can't rely on the opponent casually putting the ball in their own net against the rest of the tournament's top teams. They had some dangerous build-ups, but with only four shots and just one on frame, the finishing wasn't quite there.
- Kadidiatou Diani: Diani spent the first half absolutely embarrassing defender Kristine Minde, and generated dangerous chances again and again. Her teammates weren't always there to pick up the final pass, so I would've liked to see her take a few shots herself, but the passes she chose were rarely bad options, if only someone had run onto them.
- Isabell Herlovsen: Herlovsen was dangerous, crafty, and persistent in pressuring the French back line, and at times seemed to near-singlehandedly make Norway look the better attacking team.
- By now, we're well aware that the sideline officials in this tournament have been instructed to keep their flags down on all but the most egregious offsides and let play continue, leaving it to VAR in order to prevent onside plays from being incorrectly blown dead before anything can materialize. I don't hate the concept. Thing is, it's made for a lot of time spent continuing plays that were indeed offside, and would ordinarily have been whistled far earlier. I'm not convinced that that time's being adequately added back in stoppage, and while the late flags themselves are an annoyance that interrupt the flow, I can't help but wonder how many of those wasted minutes could've changed some games.
France, which has already secured its spot in the round of 16, next plays Nigeria, a squad that features some of my favorite offensive players to watch but also some of my least favorite adventures in defending. Could be close, could be a blow-out, could hopefully be a whole lot of fun. After taking three points against South Korea, Nigeria's got a real chance at advancing as one of the top third-place teams if they can win points or at least keep the goal differential to a minimum. I honestly have no idea what to expect.
Norway rounds out the group stage against South Korea, which should be a comfortable win if both sides perform as they have so far. The South Koreans have yet to score a goal in the tournament, so Norway will look to keep that streak going and secure a place in the second round.