Do or die for Scotland. A win against Argentina would give them a chance, anything less would end their tournament. In the first ever meeting between the two nations, Scotland would start on the attack and apply pressure immediately, somewhat contrary to the previous two games. In the 17th minute, an Argentinian run would put a header off the crossbar as the stadium went silent, and the rebound would drop for another chance on goal, but the keeper was in the right place at the right time. An attack a few minutes later in the 19th minute would give Scotland their first lead of the tournament, as with great positioning on a pass after a saved shot, Kim Little found the ball at her feet and slid it in. In the 34th, Corsie had a fantastic slide tackle in the box to break up one of the better Argentinian opportunities on the day. Scotland found themselves in another great position in the 37th minute, but excellent defense from Santana ruined the opportunity. Scotland would get a second in the 49th as a whipping ball in from Caroline Weir found one Argentinian defender marking both Rachel Corsie and Jenny Beattie in the box. The ball would go far to Beattie who headed the ball in the back of the net. A third would come in the 69th minute as Erin Cuthbert’s relentlessness finally payed off. and she bagged her first of the tournament.
After that, I don’t even know how to talk about this game. The team who came back so many times in qualifying to get to the World Cup let up three goals in 16 minutes. The first came from the substitute Milagros Menendez, and then a second from a screamer off of the foot of Florencia Bonsegundo five minutes later, technically an own goal off keeper Lee Alexander after a bounce off the crossbar. In the 86th minute, Argentina would get tripped up in the box to begin a lengthy VAR process. Ruled a penalty, the kick would be saved by Lee Alexander, but VAR would stick its head in for the third time this tournament, enforcing the unfavorable rule that there was visible blades of grass in between the line and the keeper’s heel. The kick would be taken again, and this time it was good from Florencia Bonsegundo to tie at 3-3 and give Argentina a slim hope of survival while eliminating Scotland.
I am very, very heartbroken about this match. What a rollercoaster of emotions. Despite finishing bottom of the group, Scotland tied England for scoring the most goals of the group with five. A Scottish last half collapse certainly means that Rachel Corsie will be back with the team before the game against Sky Blue FC at the end of the month, but it came at an absolutely heartbreaking cost. Scotland did the world and themselves proud. I wrote more about Scotland in the World Cup here.
Canada v. Netherlands (1-2)
This was one of the most highly-anticipated matches of the group stage going into the tournament, and indeed it would be the clash to decide who topped the group. The action would start early with a clip by Janine Beckie just outside of the box within the first minute of play. Originally deemed to be inside the box, VAR overturned the call to make it a free kick just outside of it. In the 22nd minute, the upcoming Canadian superstar Jordyn Huitema found herself in position and put the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled offsides. The Dutch had their first real chance in the 30th minute off a beautiful cross by Shanice van de Sanden, but Canadian keeper Stephanie Labbé was able to get enough off a touch on it to disrupt the offensive movement. Another chance would come in the 33rd minute when Vivianne Miedema had a great look at goal, but it would go off the crossbar. Less than a minute later, Daniëlle van de Donk had a beautiful bicycle kick that was just inches off the crossbar. While the halftime score would be 0-0, Holland surely gave Canada their first real defensive threat. Holland would break the deadlock in the 54th minute off of a free kick header put in the far post by Anouk Dekker. Christine Sinclair would equalize, knocking in her first goal of the tournament in the 60th minute off of a beautiful cut in, although it was only to last a quarter of an hour. In a similar goal to that of Sinclair, except the run was in the middle, 22-year-old substitute Lineth Beerensteyn would slide the winner in the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.
New Zealand v. Cameroon (1-2)
This was a must-win game for both teams if they wanted to advance, and this would be one of New Zealand’s strongest chances to win their first World Cup game in their 5th time around at the tournament. Starting off a little slow, New Zealand dominated the possession, but it wasn’t incredibly purposeful, unable to do a whole ton with it while Cameroon generated the majority of chances, although not necessarily good ones. Still unable to create promising chances, the beginning of the end would signal itself in the 57th minute when Ajara Nchout was able to pull a beautiful turn off a high ball and find herself one on one with the keeper. In the 64th minute, with Cameroon testing again, goalkeeper Erin Nayler would come up huge again as she had all tournament, making three saves in a row. In the 80th moment, a Katie Bowen cross, but abhorrent contact on the clearance, rocketed it into the back of the net. It looked like things were going to end 1-1, with neither team going to advance, but in the 5th minute of extra time, a pass, a shot, and a goal from Nchout launched Cameroon into the Sweet 16, breaking New Zealand hearts.
United States v. Sweden (2-0)
Both teams were on six points. Both teams with bad blood. This was a new edition of a very salty rivalry to determine who would top the final group of the tournament. I don’t exactly know how to talk about this game, maybe “The Tobin Heath Show.” I can probably call it quits after that. She was phenomenal. With Julie Ertz picking up an injury, Lavelle, Horan, and Mewis would start in the midfield. Of that group, it would take Lindsey Horan only three minutes to get on the scoresheet after a corner kick. On the defensive end, Naeher didn’t have much to do until the 21st minute, and even then it was only sparse. Alex Morgan would come out of the came at halftime as a precaution. Tobin Heath would double the lead in the 50th minute after some beautiful work on the ball. It would eventually be deemed an own goal, but either way, being the 18th goal, it set a new record for most goals in a group stage at a World Cup regardless of gender. The remainder of the second half was characterized by more chances from both sides, with Sweden becoming increasingly aggressive, but not goals for either ending 2-0, leaving the United States to top the group.
This game saw all three Utah Royals playing with Sauerbrunn and O’Hara both going 90 and Christen Press coming on as a substitute for Megan Rapinoe in the 63rd minute.
The United States will take on Spain in the Round of 16 on Monday, a team they beat 1-0 earlier in the year.
South Korea needed a win. Norway needed a draw or better. Not wanting to be a third place sneak in, Norway attacked, and they attacked early, a move which already paid off in the 4th minute when they earned themselves a kick from the spot. After the goal, however, South Korea did everything but back down. Attack after attack, earning multiple set pieces, multiple corners, and possessing in the final third, a goal was in the air for a South Korean team, who had yet to score one in the tournament, as they took 13 shots in the half compared to Norway’s for and held the ball with 58% of possession. South Korea started off the second half much like the first, conceding a horrendous penalty four minutes in. Not relenting, Yeo Minji got one back in 78th after a beautiful back-heel nutmeg, giving the Korean team their first goal of the tournament. A full comeback was not to be in the cards, and the Korea Republic will exit the tournament without a point.
With France already through, and Nigeria in a position to get through with a draw, the major question of this game came down to whether France would top the group, or would Nigeria pull an upset with a win? The last time these teams met, Nigeria suffered an 8-0 thrashing, so the side of the bookie would be with France. With those expectations, it was somewhat surprising that the Super Falcons were able to hold Les Bleus to zero shots on target through the first half. Playing absolutely fantastically, in a heartbreaking decision, VAR sent Wendie Renard to the spot in the 76th minute, but it went just off the bar. Joy was again repealed by heartbreak as the Nigerian keeper had a foot off the line, and for the second time in the tournament, a keeper would receive a yellow card and a missed penalty would be take again. This time, the PK was converted. Defensively, Nigeria was incredible.
Group A sees France and Norway go through initially, and Nigeria later sneaking in as one of the four better third place teams.
This game which would serve to determine who would break a tie on points gap to make it into the knockout stage as the runner up. China, sitting on four yellows, tended to sit back, only taking one shot and making a total of three touches in the Spanish penalty area through the first half. China continued to mostly sit back throughout the second half as well, and while Spain continued to create a plethora of chances, in fact a total of 24, they weren’t exactly the most opportune and even Chinese keeper Peng Shimeng came up big and the game ended goaless.
Germany was already in the knockout round. After already losing the head-to -head to both China and Spain, this game for South Africa was a matter of playing for pride. Germany would spoil a chance of an upset early as Melanie Leupolz converted a wide open header off a corner kick in the 14th minute. Germany would double their lead when Daebritz found the back of the net fifteen minutes later. Alexandra Popp would wrap up the first half with a beautiful header in the 40th. Come the second half, South Africa was simply playing to break the clean sheet, and while they would never find their goal, Germany would get a 4th from Lina Magull in the 58th.
Group B Finishes up looking like this with Germany, Spain and China all going through to the round of 16.
It is hard not to argue that Italy had been the surprise team of the tournament after the first two rounds of the group stage. They had upset Australia at the death, and handled Jamaica with ease, so now the question remained if they would be able to complete their sweep of the group against a hungry Brazilian side, who gave up a comeback win to the Aussies. The answer would be no. Despite, speed, tenacity, and flair, a 74th minute penalty from Marta into the back of the net would cement her as the all-time World Cup leading scorer for either gender with 17 goals, as well as send Brazil into the knockout round. About as close a game as you can get in terms of chances created, possession, and other statistics, this was an exciting one.
This was a big game. Jamaica looked to avoid going goalless in the World Cup, and Australia needed a confident result to set themselves up well going into the knockout round. Both of those would be achieved. Havana Solaun would make history, scoring Jamaica’s first-ever grand stage goal four minutes after coming on as a substitute at halftime. Jamaica would have several chances outside of the lone goal, but it continued the theme of a lack of support for Bunny Shaw, or when the cross was there, a preference to take the shot herself. Ultimately, however, it would be the Sam Kerr Show, which would be the storyline of this game. It only took her 11 minutes to nab a mesmerizing header which would be her first of four goals throughout the game. The second would be another header off of a beautiful ball from former Utah Royal Katrina Gorry, who got her first start of the tournament in the 42nd minute. Sam Kerr would complete the hat trick after a poor clearance fell to her feet for an easy ball in. A similar defensive mistake in the 83rd minute, but this time by the goal keeper, would give Kerr her fourth, tying her with Alex Morgan in the Golden Boot race.
Group C has easily been the most exciting group of the tournament in my eyes. Plenty of surprises, upsets, and twists in predictions. The group is saw Italy, Australia and Brazil advance, with Italy topping the group with the better goal differential, and Australia finished runner-up after tying the GD with Brazil but winning the head-to-head.
With England only needing a draw to top the group, pressure was on for Japan to either take the group from them with a win or sneak out a draw to avoid potentially falling to third place depending upon the result of the game between Scotland and Argentina. The game featured massive changes for an English side, with not a whole ton on the line, making eight changes to the starting eleven including Houston Dash star Rachel Daly. A gorgeous pass from Georgia Stanway to Ellen White plugged the ball into the corner, giving the game its opening goal 14 minutes in. White would land another dagger in 84th cementing their win of Group D.
Group D sees England and Japan go through.
***See match analysis above for New Zealand v. Cameroon and Canada v. Netherlands.
Group E sees Netherlands, Canada, and Cameroon in a last minute miracle in the Round of 16 move through.
Thailand v. Chile (0-2)
Neither team had earned a point coming into the final game of the group stage, but both teams had overcome insurmountable odds to get to the tournament. Chile had a chance of getting into the knockout rounds, but they would need to win by three goals to get there. They started off with three brilliant chances around the 10th minute but were unable to get the ball in the back of the net. It was very attacking play from both sides for the remainder of the half with La Roja generating the majority of the chances. Carrying the trend into the second half by applying pressure, a shot went off the side of the bar, ricocheting off the goalkeeper and going into the back of the net, putting Chile up 1-0. A second would come in the 80th minute as Maria Urrutia headed it into the back of the net where Thai keeper Waraporn Boonsing seemingly gave up. Needing one more goal to break the Round of 16, it almost came three minutes later, but a goal line defensive save kept it out as the keeper collided with the shooter, and VAR sent the play to the penalty spot. Almost sending Chile through, in a heartbreaker, the ball went off the crossbar, and La Roja would never get another chance sending them home just short.
Group F has the United States and Sweden going through, while Chile missed out on advanci