The National Women's Hockey League continues its offseason with numerous player signings, its first international draft and several front office moves. In case you've missed anything over the last few weeks, let's take a look at what's happened in the league.
by Lindsay Eanet (Brazil/Italy) and Zoë Hayden (Jamaica/Australia)
Brazil 1-0 Italy
I can't believe the Group of Chaos (Group C) is finally coming to an end. It has been a spectacular ride watching these four surprising, wonderful squads, and I wish they could all advance. The Azzurre provided the tournament’s first major upset against the Matildas, and became the first in Group C to reach two wins, leaving Australia and Brazil to fight for a place in the Round of 16. Don't you love it when the last game in the group stage has stakes?
After a pair of hard-fought group stage finales, three teams from the Group of Chaos advanced to the Round of 16, including both players in this match, who were about even on possession and chances with only a late, record-breaking Marta shot on a dubious penalty call separating them. We're gutted to see Jamaica go; the Reggae Girlz showed immense talent and got a spectacular goal in before their tournament exit. Here's hoping we get to see much more of this squad in the future.
What We Learned:
- This Is A Marta Appreciation Post: I don’t know if this truly counts as "What We Learned" because we already knew Marta was the GOAT. Today, with an expertly-struck penalty, Marta earned her 17th World Cup goal, passing Miroslav Klose's record, an exclamation point on years of leadership and talent on and off the pitch. As with last time, she pointed to the equality symbol on her boot, and here's hoping the whole world saw.
- Invest. In. Women's. Soccer.: We will scream this the entire tournament until we are blue and breathless. We've started to see some semblance of these squads being supported, whether by Juventus or Cedella Marley. Imagine the talent and gift if their FAs and FIFA went further. There are still miles and miles to go, which we've seen in the Reggae Girlz' story before this tournament and Australia dealing with injuries and coaching shakeups. But here we had four squads who each gave us brilliant, entertaining and competitive, and we want more. So much more. It's what they – and we – deserve.
- Debinha: I kind of can't believe Debinha hasn’t actually scored a goal in this tournament yet, although she does have an assist. The headlines will be all about Marta after this one, and rightfully so, but the North Carolina Courage forward had another excellent match, with all kinds of brazen footwork moves and cheeky, magical backheels. Let's hope she takes this show on the road to the NWSL too.
- The Goalkeepers: The Battle of the Barbaras was one of the highlights of the match, with the Brazilian keeper coming up big to stave off a tenacious counterattack from Barbara Bonansea. On the other end, Laura Giuliani had to stave off Marta, Cristiane and an excellent Debinha, and with the help of an Azzurre back line that had to fight set piece after set piece, only managed to concede a Marta penalty.
- These late offside flags are going to kill me. I have nightmares about them.
- Shoutout to the Very Focused Italy supporters dressed as Mario and Luigi. More World Cup cosplay, please!
- Laura Giuliani is SAVAGE AF.
Round of 16, baby! The Group of Chaos will spread its high-flying, high-scoring, Big Weird Magic Madness to the rest of the tournament this weekend, with Brazil facing one of two heavy-hitters, France or Germany (likely the former) and Italy taking on China or Nigeria in Montpellier on June 25th. Will Italy's prolific attack hold up against a physical Steel Roses backline or Nigeria’s veteran defenders? Will injuries catch up to As Canarinhas as they face against tournament juggernauts? I can't believe we get to do this for another week.
Jamaica 1-4 Australia
It was the Special Edition Sam Kerr Variety Hour, but Jamaica scored their first ever World Cup goal as an interlude and almost gave Australia a run for their money in the second half.
Jamaica came to play and got a couple shots right on target quite early, forcing Lydia Williams to make some saves, but the Matildas settled the game down and managed to hold the majority of possession in the first half, with Kerr's headers getting the better of Nicole McClure.
The second half started off promising for Jamaica with Havana Solaun's evasive maneuver around Williams and nifty shot to cut the Australian lead in half. But, despite getting more sustained possession and more looks at the net, they couldn't find an equalizer, and Sam Kerr would add two more goals (both with her feet, this time, including her fourth on a rather embarrassing flubbed ball by McClure) in the 69th and 83rd minutes for the victory.
What We Learned
- You have to hit the damn target: Not to take away from this win by Australia, but they have to feel like their defense got away with one a bit. Bunny Shaw got a lot of shots off from dangerous areas, and all of them went high or wide – including a header off of Jamaica's only corner, which came late in the first half when the Reggae Girlz were only down 1-0. If Shaw gets any of those on target, even just to create a rebound or two, we could have been looking at a draw or even a Jamaican upset.
- The danger of Sam Kerr is in a subtle flick of her neck: In the knockout stage, Australia will likely need more goals like Kerr's second, an absolutely beautiful header that she caught in midair on an astonishingly high jump and redirected into the net with a very subtle motion of her neck. It's not just that she works herself into soft areas and creates chances, it's that she can finish them with subtle individual efforts that are simply not often defendable. The road ahead for Australia isn't easy and they will need this type of offense as a trump card.
(you know, other than Sam Kerr)
- Havana Solaun: Solaun came on in the second half as a replacement for Tiffany Cameron at midfield and immediately made an impact with her goal, which was set up by Shaw springing her on ahead. Her speed and footwork gave an energy boost to the Jamaican side in the second half – she made the players around her better.
- Jamaica's physical defense: Jamaica played a brutal, physical game that (mostly) didn't stray too far into penalty territory. Obviously, when you're tackling that means you don't have the ball, which isn't great, but punishing your opponent physically, showing confidence, and creating turnovers was something the Jamaican side did well overall as a team, and their 24 credited tackles were a huge part of that. This game was a bit closer than its scoreline suggests.
- Obviously, with little hope of advancing, it made sense to let Sydney Schneider rest and give Nicole McClure a chance in net, but she was shaky. Again, this game was closer than its scoreline suggests and part of that is at least one major gaffe by McClure. She also probably wants that first header by Kerr back, when it looks like she got caught sleeping.
- The celebration after Solaun's goal where she leaped into Shaw's arms was absolutely beautiful and we would understand, reader, if you, like us, shed a tear or two.
Jamaica is eliminated. Australia advances to the round of 16, and they'll play Norway on Saturday at 3:00 PM Eastern in the only knockout stage matchup that is yet fully determined. Norway emerges from a difficult Group A in second place and has been stingy defensively, though not unbeatable – it should be a good match where both teams have a chance to win. Australia has been victim to an upset already in this tournament, and as they emerge from the Group of Chaos, anything could happen.
Filed under: team brazil; team italy; 2019 women's world cup; team jamaica; team australia; marta; debinha; barbara bonansea; laura giuliani; sam kerr; havana solaun; bunny shaw; nicole mcclure
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