by Lindsay Eanet (Canada/Netherlands and USA/Sweden) and Zoë Hayden (Cameroon/New Zealand and Thailand/Chile)
Canada 1-2 Netherlands
Group E drew to a close with the top two teams in the group comfortably advancing to the knockout stage. It almost looked as though Canada was going to go ahead in the first two minutes as 18-year-old wünderkind Jordyn Huitema got tripped up on the edge of the box and a penalty was initially awarded. VAR dialed it back, and the match remained scoreless until Anouk Dekker headed a spectacular free kick to put the Oranje ahead in the 54th minute.
Canada answered quickly with captain Christine Sinclair's equalizer, but it was the Dutch who eked out the victory as Vivianne Miedema set up impact sub Lineth Beerensteyn for a stunner.
What We Learned:
- Use Subs Wisely: Both the Canadian and Dutch sides had moments of brilliance in the second half courtesy of high-impact substitutions in the second half. Adriana Leon looked confident coming off the bench for Canada, demonstrating creativity and doing for Canada’s attack what Bugs Bunny did for the Tune Squad with the “Secret Stuff” water bottles in Space Jam. But the hero of the day for the Oranje was Lineth Beerensteyn, who connected with a gorgeous pass from Vivianne Miedema in the 75th minute to secure the win and the group. She was exactly what you want an impact sub to do—right place, right time.
- VAR is Still Bad Even When It’s Right: Okay, so maybe we’ve learned that throughout the tournament, including in yesterday’s Scotland-Argentina heartbreaker. Today, we almost had a penalty for Canada (and another notch in the Christine Sinclair goal belt) in the first two minutes of the match, but VAR giveth, and VAR taketh away. It was the right call, as the challenge on Jordyn Huitema was just outside the box, but it’s a reminder of how much of a decider this technology has been throughout the World Cup, much to the chagrin of fans. Compounding WoSo fans’ frustration with VAR is the announcement today that the English Premier League will be not using VAR for certain calls after all, following yesterday’s mess. It feels like once again, FIFA is using the Women’s World Cup as a repository for all its bad ideas (see also: playing matches on turf) and it’s disrespectful. Make everyone suffer or don’t do it at all, guys.
- Vivianne Miedema: I know, I know. Sky blue, water wet, Miedema good. But the young Dutch forward had another great match today, getting some spectacular chances, including a strike that just barely bounced off the woodwork. But it was her forward thinking and well-placed ball to Lineth Beerensteyn in the 75th minute that gave the Oranje the win and the standout.
- Ashley Lawrence, AGAIN: I know this is the second time I’ve shouted her out but Ashley Lawrence has been showing UP in this tournament. The day was all about skipper Christine Sinclair inching ever closer to Abby Wambach’s record, but it was Lawrence who delivered a perfect, sailing pass for Sinclair to knock home for the equalizer.
- The Dutch horn section may be the best supporter-led musical accompaniment of this entire tournament. You could hear their renditions of "Go West" and "Hey Baby" ringing throughout the stadium and it was glorious. As an aside, it's wild how much impact the Village People had on sporting culture around the world.
- May we all operate through this world this week with the brazen ambition and technique of Danielle Van De Donk trying to bike it in near the end of the first half.
Canada looks ahead to Sweden on Monday in the Round of 16 – two sides that pride themselves on organization and discipline could either be very fun or very boring, and hopefully the former. Fans of the Netherlands breathe a sigh of relief with a victory in the group, and the Oranje will face a Japan side with one tournament win under their belts so far.
USA 2-0 Sweden
After decimating Thailand and putting three past Cristiane Endler and Chile, it looked as though the USWNT were back and unstoppable. Their first major challenge at the end of Group F revealed that Jill Ellis' side is not, in fact, infallible, and that even talent this immense is not immune to questionable coaching and roster choices.
Sweden's attack had some solid chances, but the difference-makers for the USA were an early Lindsey Horan goal and a Tobin Heath Goal That Was Offside But Who Honestly Cares It Was Gorgeous If You Truly Care Then You're a Cop Sorry I Don't Make the Rules, which eventually was credited as a Sweden own goal. Both sides impressed in the group stage and are through to the Round of 16, with the victors taking three points from all three matches.
What We Learned:
- Play Crystal Dunn As Not A Left Back Challenge: Okay, this isn't new either; we've been screaming this the entire tournament. But the USWNT back four looked a little unsure of itself today, especially with Julie Ertz on the sidelines with an injury precaution. Today was one of those days where we saw the defense make some notable mistakes and Sweden's tenacious attack exposed the side’s defensive depth issues. Meanwhile, Crystal Dunn had some excellent attacking looks, including a rocket of a shot in the first that could have doubled the score. She is just so good and playing just so out of position, and it's frustrating to watch again and again. Also, put in Tierna Davidson! It's time!
- This Is A Tobin Heath Appreciation Post: Starting a land war in Russia in the middle of winter. Going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Trying to defend against Tobin Heath. Maybe some may consider her wanting to go it alone selfish or obsessed with heroics, but think of all the great magicians and valiant hero-ballers that have come before her. Would the sport not be worse without them? Is watching Tobin Heath nutmeg past two Swedish defenders or arching a perfect shot into the corner not the definition of artistry? Is there not a wonder of the world in her first touch? There are many greater reasons to hate FIFA, but denying Heath credit for that second goal made the list today.
- Samantha Mewis: Writing about sports is like dancing about architecture, and today Sam Mewis was both a dancer and an architect on the pitch. Her control and positioning, her sense of where to place her body and the ball, finding every angle for these optimally weighted passes and connections – she was creative and dangerous and every other adjective we like to so gleefully shower upon a midfield.
- Tobin Heath: (See above.)
- Rose Lavelle: Another fantastic performance for Rose Lavelle, who provided smooth, thoughtful, controlled service to the front three. Subbing her off for Christen Press was a good move to rest her ahead of the Round of 16, but her absence was definitely felt in the duration.
- Kosovare Asllani: Kosse couldn’t find the back of the net today but nonetheless looked solid, creating a few chances that made fans of the stars and stripes sweat and giving the USA back four a headache.
- "EVERYWHERE WE GO-OOO!" "EVERYWHERE WE GO-OOOO!" "PEOPLE WANNA KNO-OOW!" "PEOPLE WANNA KNO-OOW!"
- Why are we talking about Bob Bradley's restaurant recommendations in Le Havre on this broadcast; this has nothing to do with anything.
- International sporting competition is my number one Problematic Fave. As an American and a fan of the national team, nationalism of any kind still makes me feel generally queasy, especially at a time when the people in charge of our country are committing so many atrocities and emboldening white supremacists in our name. I will always cheer enthusiastically for the USWNT, and have nothing but respect for the immense talent on this side, but seeing all the whooping and star-spangled cosplay from our more rabid and obnoxious fans is kind of bumming me out. Is anyone else feeling this right now? I also know that the combination of imperialist histories around the world and violent far-right nationalism on the rise elsewhere, this is not a uniquely American sentiment right now. To other soccer fans struggling with the balance of cheering on your talented national team and discomfort with nationalism and exceptionalism — I see you and you're not alone.
The Round of 16 is looking positively swoon-worthy, with the USA breathing a sigh of relief and avoiding their neighbors to the north. They will face off against Jenni Hermoso and an improved but very beatable Spain side on Monday. Sweden will take on the second-place Group E side, Canada, recovering from a tough loss against the Netherlands earlier today, on Monday as well. A smart, attacking Sweden side clashing with Canada's tough defense will be an entertaining sight.
Cameroon 2-1 New Zealand
This game was wide open, and a winner was likely to advance. Cameroon slowly chipped away at their opponents to take the 1-0 lead, only to allow a late own goal, and set up their best player for a thrilling winner in stoppage time.
Neither team really mustered much offense during the first half, merely exchanging the ball repeatedly in the midfield kind of hoping that something might happen soon. The best chance came from Gabrielle Onguéné streaking in down the left side; her near-perfect ball was caught by the fingertips of Erin Nayler.
Unfortunately for New Zealand, she couldn't stop Ajara Nchout who completely undressed the New Zealand defense in the box with some calm footwork to put it in the back of the net.
Aurelle Awona kicked the ball past her own keeper in pretty spectacular fashion in the 80th minute to tie the game. But, Ajara Nchout was having none of that. She put the team on her back in the 95th minute, making Ria Percival look absolutely ridiculous as she evaded her not once but twice, and then rocketed the ball into the goal to get her team to the knockout stage.
What We Learned:
- Never say die: Late opportunities are still opportunities. Is there anything like putting an opponent away for good in stoppage time? It's the cruelest and best thing in soccer, all at the same time.
- Rankings suck for some but are great for others: Cameroon's win eliminated Argentina. This bracket system is, as always, rough.
- Erin Nayler: She allowed two goals, but they were essentially perfect strikes. The score could have been much more lopsided had she slipped early in the second half when, immediately after Nchout's first goal, she had to make something like three harrowing saves in a row while Cameroon just kept getting the ball back like they had it on a string.
- Ajara Nchout: The New Zealand defense might not be outstanding but Nchout could probably make a lot of players look like they are stuck in quicksand. I've watched her late goal four or five times and keep getting goosebumps.
- New Zealand only got one shot on target in the whole match and it was an own goal, even though they held the edge in possession.
- The colorblocking of these Cameroon kits is so outstanding; more countries should explore the benefits of aggressive colorblocking.
New Zealand are done, having never won a World Cup group stage game, ever – they've qualified five times, too. The Indomitable Lionesses will face the (non-indomitable???) Lionesses on Sunday at 11:30 AM Eastern.
Thailand 0-2 Chile
What an absolute nail-biter and roller coaster for Chile and their supporters. They got their first ever win, and their first ever goals, at the World Cup, but Thailand held them off and played spoiler, preventing them from getting that essential third goal that they needed if they wanted to advance to the round of 16.
Thailand got a few great looks at the net, and Waraporn Boonsing was extremely good for long stretches, but ultimately she managed to put a goal in her own net and get served with a yellow card, which makes hers one of the wildest performances in goal I've ever seen in any sport.
The most beautiful moment of the match was Maria José Urrutia's subtle little header to put her team up 2-0 and just that much closer to the round of 16. When Boonsing fouled Francisca Lara in the box, leading to her penalty kick in the 86th minute, everyone watching had to think they were about to witness a miracle – but Lara hit the crossbar. For the rest of the game, the Thai defense kicked it up a notch and blocked shots with aplomb, and Boonsing seemed to get a boost of confidence from the missed penalty kick. Despite 7 minutes of stoppage time added, and tons of chances and looks at the net, Chile never got their third goal and seemed nervous on their multiple corners and throw-ins.
What We Learned:
- High stakes, high drama: These games have been going into complete other dimensions when the stakes are particularly high. It's like eight-dimensional chess except on the soccer pitch.
- Chile is a force: None of the teams making their World Cup debut this year advanced, but Chile is going to be a team to look out for in the future if they can sustain their program. They were so fun to watch.
- Maria José Urrutia: She was everywhere, my goodness, and her header was masterful.
- Silawan Intamee and Kanjana Sung-ngoen: The Thai players who got the best looks at the net in this game and their previous games. If they'd managed to bury their early chances this is a much different game.
- Waraporn Boonsing: Is it possible to give a game ∞ % ? Waraporn Boonsing gave this game everything she had including some stuff her team would probably rather not have seen but it was still pretty spectacular.
- Francisca Lara's facial expressions are absolutely, eminently relatable. Her anguished cries and screams of determination were like a metaphor for having to exist in the year 2019.
- It was pretty cool that Natthakarn Chinwong saved a goal for her keeper on the line; but it was also the same sequence that led to the penalty kick and yellow card for Boonsing. Thailand had some kind of magic luck with the ball in the latter part of this game.
Both of these teams are done for this tournament, but it was such a joy to watch them. They'll be back.