Group E: NEW ZEALAND 0-1 THE NETHERLANDS
It was a late, late show at Le Havre with the Netherlands finding a stoppage time winner to undo all New Zealand’s hard work. Newly signed Arsenal midfielder, Jill Roord, came off the bench to head home from close range on an afternoon when the European champions had struggled to break down an obstinate defence. The Football Ferns were left to consider what might have been, had they taken one of several good opportunities earlier in the match.
The opening exchanges were cagey, but the Leeuwinnen created the earliest chances on goal. Winger Lieke Martens had an effort easily saved by Erin Nayler before Vivianne Miedema headed over.
New Zealand Head Coach, Tom Sermanni, had masterminded a 1-0 over England recently and clearly felt the same approach would work against the Netherlands. His side were largely content to defend deep and break, but on the odd occasion they pressed higher they got some joy. Olivia Chance robbed a Dutch defender and thumped her shot off the underside of the crossbar. Then, on 34 minutes Sarah Gregorious picked Dominique Bloodsworth’s pocket and found Rosie White whose venomous half volley was brilliantly saved at full stretch by Sari van Veenendaal.
Now aware they were in a match, the Dutch regained control but were unable to create any chances until first half stoppage time. Miedema had a shot blocked and then Bloodworth missed from two yards after Sherida Spitse’s corner from the right had caused chaos.
The Football Ferns started the second half well. Chance broke down the left, but no one could get on the end of her cross. Betsy Hassett recycled the attack and crossed for Gregorious who didn’t connect properly, giving van Veenendaal time to scramble across her goal and paw it away.
But New Zealand needed to stay vigilant at the back. Nayler saved at the feet of Miedema and then Martens, starting to become more influential, fired over from fifteen yards. The 2017 World Player of the Year then had CJ Bott eating her dust as she spun down the left and found Miedema running a channel. The Arsenal striker set herself to shoot but narrowly missed the far post.
Desiree van Lunteren and Shanice van de Sanden combined well down the right for Miedema but found Nayler equal to the shot. Frustration started to set in and van Lunteren blazed over the bar from 25-yards.
Ever a danger on the counter break, New Zealand’s Ria Percival put Paige Satchell in on goal, but she could only hit the side netting.
Dutch Head Coach, Sarina Wiegman, tried to force the issue with 15 minutes to play, bringing Roord on to bolster central midfield and Merel van Dongen at left wing back. Pressure mounted on the Oceanian Champions. Daniëlle van de Donk headed van Dongen’s deep cross wide of the mark; then Miedema headed Spitse’s corner over.
Four minutes for stoppages must have felt a very long time for the Football Ferns and they did their best to run the clock down. Wiegman, by now, had played her last Oranje card, replacing a subdued Van Der Sanden with Lineth Beerensteyn, and all her substitutes combined to get the game’s only goal. Van Dongen hit a swirling cross to the back post, Beerensteyn was able to get some pressure on defender Ali Riley and, when the ball broke, Roord arrived to nod the winner.
The Netherlands have made it something of a party trick recently to win matches very late, so they have developed a degree of patience and confidence that enables them to keep switching the play and probe around the edges of the penalty box. But, even by their standards, it was a close-run thing today. For New Zealand, it was a harsh lesson in managing those last few moments, particularly when they can’t take advantage of the very good chances, like they had today, to get ahead.
Player of the match: Sari van Veenendaal, Netherlands (could have all been so different if the Dutch keeper hadn’t made two excellent stops)
GROUP F: CHILE 0-2 SWEDEN
Sweden broke the hearts of Chile fans with two goals following a long delay for inclement weather in Rennes. Up to the 83rd minute Chile were battling for a share of the points thanks to goalkeeper Christiane Endler and a lot of profligate Swedish finishing. But when the referee took the players off in a thunderstorm on 72 minutes there was always the chance that Sweden would regroup and dig out a result. Kosovare Asllani scored just ten minutes after the restart and Madelen Janogy put the result beyond doubt in stoppage time.
The match started in glorious sunshine with the Swedes on the front foot and Chile just trying to hold them at bay. Half chances came and went but Endler was forced to be at her best in the 26th minute when Linda Sembrandt met Magdalena Eriksson’s corner. The header seemed bound for the bottom left hand corner but Endler somehow clawed it out. The keeper later came off her line sharply to deny Stina Blackstenius who couldn’t keep her effort down.
La Roja Femenina, sloppy in possession for most of the first half had to wait until the 41st minute for their first shot at goal. Two minutes into stoppage time Karen Araya tried an audacious chip from 30 yards that had Hedvig Lindahl back-pedalling, but she was grateful to see the effort go astray.
In the second half efforts from Sweden’s Rolfo, Blackstenius, Eriksson, Seger and Jakobsson all failed to test Endler. Having finally see enough, Head Coach Peter Gerhardsson looked to change things up with a double substitution but, just moments later, the heaven’s opened and the sky roared its own disapproval. Referee Lucila Venegas Montes had no hesitation in taking the players off for their own safety.
On their return 40 minutes later, the Swedes found a bit of extra zip and Asllani was first to a loose ball in the box to fire past Endler – with their 21st effort on goal. Chile were just not able to respond and excellent substitute, Janogy, finished the job with a fine run and shot into the top corner to ensure that a banana skin was avoided.
Player of the Match: Caroline Seger, Sweden (a cool head before, during and after the storm)
GROUP F: USA 13 – 0 THAILAND
Record breaking USA were rampant against a shell-shocked Thailand. Alex Morgan led the scoring with five, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle both got a brace and there were goals for Lindsay Horan and Megan Rapinoe, as well as substitutes Mallory Pugh and Carli Lloyd.
As early as the fifth minute the Americans had the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside. Morgan then got the rout off and running on 12 minutes heading in Kelley O’Hara’s cross from the right.
With the US parked in Thailand’s half, Lavelle then doubled the lead, hitting a left footed drive from the edge of the box that Sukanya Chor Charoenying should have done better with.
VAR would somehow rule out a penalty decision for a clear foul in the box on Mewis , but it mattered little. Tobin Heath’s free kick broke to Horan 6 yards out and the midfielder made no mistake. There would be another VAR penalty check in first half stoppage time for a foul on Horan which was also denied.
It took just five minutes of the second period for the US to get the scoreboard moving again. Sam Mewis latched on to a pass from Rapinoe and rifled left footed into the net. Within six minutes the score moved from 4-0 to 7-0. First, Heath’s free kick from the right was flicked on and Morgan converted from close range. Then Crystal Dunn headed for the left by-line, found Lavelle who fed Mewis and she swept home. Dunn was involved again moments later this time picking out Mewis who returned the favour for Lavelle. It wasn’t a fair fight and the Thai’s were reeling.
Morgan completed her hat-trick on 74 minutes receiving a ball into feet from substitute Christen Press, Cruyff-turned her marker and found the top corner.
Press was bringing a whole new world of pain for the Thai team down the right. She fed Pugh, who crossed for Rapinoe and the forward made no mistake.
Rapinoe turned provider for the tenth goal, cutting inside from the left touchline and finding Morgan in space; the striker shrugged off her marker and hit a sweet left foot strike into Chor Charoenying’s top right-hand corner.
Equalling the best ever win at the World Cup beckoned and the Americans were in no mood to be merciful. Morgan’s through ball was perfect for Pugh to reach in her stride, round the keeper and slot.
On 88 minutes, the USNWT were record breakers. Dunn found Morgan and she looped the ball over her marker and hit a sweet half-volley past the static keeper. Five for Morgan, twelve for the USA.
They weren’t done. Press, who looked a more than able deputy for Tobin Heath on the right, played an inch-perfect through ball for Carli Lloyd and the former Manchester City striker nonchalantly finished with the outside of her right boot.
In a World Cup where a few of the fancied sides have struggled to put away resistant minnows, the USA gave a masterclass in pulling an opponent to pieces. Every single one of Jill Ellis’s players looked focused and sharp and insanely fit. Each one gave the impression that they were good enough to walk into anybody else’s team at the tournament. No doubt the media will ensure the reality check brakes are applied. It was Thailand tonight. There are much, MUCH bigger challenges ahead, but this was a marker set down, and the early signs are that the current world champions are going to be tough to dethrone…
Player of the match: Alex Morgan, USA (Five goals? Come on!)