Germany 4-0 South Africa
This was as complete a game as I think we've seen from any squad in the tournament as the Germans picked apart the South African defense. They played their style of game and and did it to perfection. The passes were crisp, the ball-handling superb and everything just seemed to be clicking.
What We Learned:
- Heads Up: Germany are very, very good at getting the ball deep in the corners and placing perfect crosses back in the box. They scored three of their four goals thanks to headers - the last one needed a tap in after hitting the post, but their game through the air just gives so much dimension to their attack.
- Big Risk, Big Reward: Ya'll, when I tell you watching Andile Dlamini play goal makes me anxious, I mean even watching the 2:00 minute highlight video had me yelling in my head. She takes risks in her positioning and uses a lot of her 18-yard box. She's attempting to cut down angles and make herself bigger, but it also means she can be out of position. Many of her saves were by the tips of the fingers because of it and she leaves rebounds out because she can't get there to wrap up the ball. She made some stellar saves and she seems a bit fearless, but there are times when I want to yell at her to get back on her line.
- Team Germany: This might be a cop-out, but I thought the whole team really played a complete game. There were four different goal scorers and the whole team seemed to be seamlessly working together. There was no one standout because they all stepped up and played well. It'll be interesting to see if they can keep that up against other opponents. They played exactly the kind of game you want to be playing at this point in the tournament. Their confidence has to be sky high.
- I'm going to miss the pure joy that South Africa and their fans brought to the tournament. They were there to have fun and enjoy the ride and I both respect that and wanted to be a part of their crew.
Germany earns the top spot in Group A and will face one of the third place qualifiers on Saturday.
Spain 0-0 China
I swear I'm not normally a ridiculous goalie stan. In fact, when it comes to hockey, I usually give my friends a hard time about loving goalies so much. But this tournament has had so many outstanding goaltending performances and I am here to make sure you know it. Today, 21-year-old Peng Shimeng made a number of saves by her fingertips to keep Spain off the board and give her team a chance. Her offense couldn't help her out, but the team is still in a very good position to advance after she put up a clean sheet.
What We Learned:
- The Two-Way Game: If felt like China PR was so focused on not letting in a goal that they were incapable of getting anything going on the other end of the pitch. Anything they did manage to muster past the midfield line was quickly shut down or shanked over the end line.
- Get Creative: I'd have loved to see a bit of creative football from Spain in this one. They were holding possession and getting plenty of opportunities, but when Peng Shimeng kept making the diving saves, it sort of left them nonplussed. There's some great footwork and speed on their front line and I'd have liked to see them aggressively take the ball in deep.
- Mariona Caldentey: She was the major playmaker for Spain in this game. She was in on most every one of their dangerous plays as she brought the ball up, crossed it, dribbled around defenders and generally made sure they were getting the ball to the net.
- Patricia Guijarro: In the second half, she looked like she was going to do anything to get the game-winner. She had a nose for the goal every time she touched the ball and was often pulling the trigger immediately, not letting anyone get set up in front of her.
- The scoreless games have been some of the best to watch so far.
With the draw, Spain earns the number two spot in group B based on a single goal in differential. China now has to wait to see if they can still advance as one of the third place teams. They're in a good position, as a lot of the other third place teams have three points while they have four, but there's still a lot of games and possible outcomes left.
France 1-0 Nigeria
The host nation ekes out a win they maybe didn't deserve. Nigeria played an amazing game and their young goalie continues to impress with her consistency and confidence. It wasn't what one would call a beautiful match. Neither team had a shot on target in the first half and France fumbled several decent opportunities in the second half without doing much dangerous. In the end, the talk will be much more about VAR than anything else.
What We Learned:
- Be Careful What You Wish For: This is basically what we asked for. Getting VAR was a huge push by the likes of Jill Ellis and others more than a year ago. The argument was that the men's game had it, so the women's game should. Now it's here and it's having a massive impact and people don't like it. I hate to break it to everyone, but VAR isn't the issue.
- Nobody Really Knows The Rules: And I get that. Few folks sit around reading the rule book for fun. VAR is slowing down the game and it feels like it's taking the human element out of it, but the calls that are being made are the correct calls. You don't dislike VAR, you dislike the rules of soccer. And on many fronts, folks are correct – the rules can be quite bad, actually – but being pissed off about VAR when it's getting the calls right by the book and when you've just been in the dark about the actual rules is not particularly productive.
- Nobody Wanted France to Win This Game: Okay, obviously the French did, but Nigeria played such a stellar game and did an amazing job of keeping this potent team in check. The French were tired and frustrated and for it to end this way was a bit heartbreaking. We're all hoping Nigeria gets through as a third-place team.
- Chiamaka Nnadozie: I'm just only ever going to talk about and nominate goalkeepers, it seems. She's been a huge reason why Nigeria still have life in this tournament. She had the French on their heels for 90+ minutes.
- Delphine Cascarino: France made some lineup changes that didn't pay off much and they seemed to underestimate Nigeria. The first half wasn't much to watch, but Cascarino was the only French player that seemed to be working to create space and opportunities. She was constantly moving, cutting the ball back and looking for through passes or chances to get set pieces.
- I really want Nigeria to advance. Their fans were some of my favorite parts of the 2015 World Cup and this would be a big step for them.
France is through with a spotless record. Nigeria helped themselves by only allowing the one goal and now they wait to see if they'll qualify for the next round as one of the four third-place teams to make it through. They'll be watching New Zealand vs. Cameroon on Thursday and hoping for a draw.
Norway 2-1 Republic of Korea
While there have been plenty of controversial penalty calls or no-calls, the two that led to Norway's goal were both pretty clear cut. Korea was sloppy. Caroline Hansen's tournament may be over thanks to the tackle that caused her ankle to buckle under her. The team is cautiously optimistic about her recovery, but time will tell. The Korean team struggled to put anything on target, though their late goal is worth watching again and again.
- Lee Geum-min: As Korea's main playmaker, she seemed to be all over the field, especially once they scored their first goal. If the Koreans would have had that kind of energy the whole match, it might have been a different outcome. Her back-heel nutmeg pass for an assist is the cheekiest thing I've seen in a long while.
- Twenty-two shots from Korea and really none that were incredibly dangerous. It feels a bit like this might be a squad on the verge if they can hone some of that talent and get a bit more focused.
It's a long wait for the Norwegians, who'll play their first knock-out round game on Saturday. They'll play the second-place team out of Group C, which looks like it will be Australia or Brazil. The bracket will be decided tomorrow.