Australia 3-2 Brazil
*extremely Bill Hader voice* This match had everything! Long, simmering history between the sides. Double nutmegs. Occasionally dubious officiating. Sam Kerr ghost goals. The return of Marta.
The Group C chaos continued in its marquee matchup, and for the first half, it looked like we were going to be dealing with the same underwhelming Matildas squad that couldn't keep it together against Italy over the weekend. An early penalty gave Marta an opportunity to slot her 16th World Cup goal, tying Miroslav Klose's record; and some fancy footwork from Debinha and Cristiane helped the Canarinhas move up by 2.
Caitlin Foord got one back in stoppage time, but the first half went to Brazil. A long shot from Chloe Logarzo equalized for a resurgent Matildas squad in the 58th minute, but it was a defensive error on the part of Mónica that gave them the victory, a headed own goal on a difficult clearance that sailed straight past Bárbara. We saw tricky brilliance and major errors on both sides as the Matildas saved themselves from an early departure.
What We Learned:
- All Hail Group C, Group of Chaos: Depending on who you ask, today's match was either more lit than the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree or a Charlie Brown disappointment marked by defensive errors and frustrating VAR calls. But with Italy's upset, Cristiane's hat trick, brilliant moments from Bunny Shaw and Sydney Schneider, and the Matildas clawing from behind today, Group C has been wild. What fun is there in a tournament when the results are predictable? Let the chaos and weirdness overcome you. It's okay.
- One cannot rely on headliners alone: You can't have a music festival with Kacey Musgraves headlining followed by several dozen regional Florida Georgia Line cover bands. And so it was with Australia and Brazil today. When Vadão subbed off Marta, Cristiane, and Formiga*, Brazil looked a lot less confident, the gaps in leadership apparent. And Sam Kerr had some strong, dangerous chances per usual, but it was the rest of the Aussie squad supporting her on the attack that made the victory possible. Call it the "Orlando Pride Doctrine"— heavy hitters are cannot be the be-all, end-all of a truly cohesive squad.
(* Who is still bossing attackers in her seventh World Cup and it is a damn shame she's suspended for Brazil's last match)
- Cristiane & Debinha: Cristiane turned it out again, snagging a brilliant goal and showing more craftiness on the pitch. But her fellow attacker Debinha looked powerful as hell today too, with some impressive runs, magical nutmegs and dangerous chances. Her smartly-placed setup of Cristiane's goal was one for the highlight reel. These two together, at their best, are a dream to watch.
- Chloe Logarzo: Playing the long ball may not be the most fun or sexy goal strategy, but Logarzo's was so powerful, a rainbow of a shot that Kerr didn’t even need to get a touch on it for the equalizer. In addition to positioning the comeback for the Matildas, Logarzo was smart on defense and just about everywhere her team needed her to be. And once again, the tournament just serves as a way to reinforce how friggin' good the Washington Spirit are this year.
- Sam Kerr with possibly the quote of the tournament, advising the Matildas' doubters to "suck on that one" after their from-behind victory. I absolutely cannot wait for the thrilling discourse about star players "class" and "being role models for the chiiiiildren" and whatnot, can't you?
- We also got an iconic tournament moment in Marta's goal celebration, where she pointed to an equality symbol on her shoe. I hope we will talk more about the urgent need to better compensate players around the globe and about the serious evaluation that needs to take place to address the ways FIFA and national FAs have failed their women's soccer programs than we will about the celebration itself, but I'm not holding my breath.
- It's truly wonderful seeing Hayley Raso on the pitch again. Less than a year ago, she was reeling from three broken vertebrae and told she would never walk again. Today, she donned the Matildas shirt and played in a World Cup. I don't want to reduce that kind of hard, harrowing recovery to platitudes about the "triumph of the human spirit" but it's genuinely awe-inspiring.
- Consider this yet another casual reminder that if you love watching Sam Kerr, Lydia Williams, Caitlin Foord, Marta, and Debinha, you can watch them all the rest of the summer in a wonderful league called the NWSL. Which we cover here sometimes, on this very website.
- MARTA’S DOG. That's it. That's the bulletpoint.
Both sides are through their toughest matchup of the group and with one round of matchups to go, it still feels like spots are up for grabs. It was easy to assume before the tournament started that Brazil and Australia would both sail right into the knockout stage with little resistance, and in the case of the former, it looked like we were right after Cristiane’s 3-0 routing of Jamaica. But then the Matildas lost in stoppage time to Italy, and with Barbara Bonansea and Bunny Shaw still waiting to challenge a pair of defenses who have had their share of errors so far, who the hell knows? Brazil faces the Azzurre and Australia the Reggae Girlz on Tuesday, and we cannot wait for more chaos to ensue.
South Africa 0-1 China
Both squads played valiantly in their first outings and came up short, and both needed a win today to stay alive in this competition. It was the Steel Roses who came away with the three points thanks to a 40th minute goal from Ying Li. The Banyana Banyana were outpaced and outmuscled by China, but held Wang Shuang and company to just the one goal, making the next match all the more crucial as the Chinese attempt to catch or surpass Spain.
What We Learned:
- We Missed You, Wang Shuang: Wang Shuang got the start and was a much stronger and clearer presence in this matchup, although she had a few positioning issues at the start. Once she was able to find her space and get into the center, she made some key passes and deliveries and was starting to look like her old creative self. Like a handful of other expected high performers in the tournament, we have yet to see the most of what she can do, but we're getting there.
- And Yet, A Creator Still Needs Finishers: China has a whole bevy of powerful attackers at their disposal – Yang Li, Li Ying, and Wang Shanshan, who had some dangerous moments today and against Germany over the weekend. Despite out-possessing the Banyana Banyana and outmatching their defenders, the Steel Roses couldn't find the net more than once. If China wants to secure their place in the knockout stage and advance further, they're gonna need a few more goals.
- Gu Yasha: The Gu Yasha/Lebohang Ramalepe matchup was one of the joys of this match, especially in the early parts. Ramalepe showed she was able to play multiple roles, often at once, and worked hard to contain a fierce right-side attack from the Steel Roses. But Gu Yasha outran the Banyana Banyana defenders, steering in some gorgeous crosses. She never quite found the back of the net, but watching her attempts was a thrill.
- Kaylin Swart: Once again, the keeper for the Banyana Banyana stands out. Although she couldn't singlehandedly come up with three points, she helped mitigate the damage of the Steel Roses' attack and had two major saves in the second half. Expect to see more great stuff from her in the future.
- The fans of both squads were amazing. 13/10. Wish this tournament could last forever. I hate that we're at the point where people are getting eliminated.
What we have left in Group B is one extremely consequential match and one not-so-consequential match, as often happens in this phase of the group stage. The Banyana Banyana fought hard but still sit at the bottom of the group and face group leaders Germany on Monday, and while South Africa will probably be the more exciting squad to watch, they'll be playing for pride as the Nationalelf will probably generate another 1-0 win.
China and Spain each have one win and Spain squeaks slightly ahead on goal differential, so their Monday matchup has stakes. China absolutely has to win on Monday – a draw means Spain advance on differential. It's a battle between the craftiness of Jenni Hermoso and the powerful Steel Roses defense, and the latter feels more likely to come out ahead in the end, especially when considering that Wang Shuang is back in the mix.