Group B: GERMANY 1-0 SPAIN
Spain made the early running, but Germany scored the all-important goal to seize control of Group B in an absorbing encounter at Valenciennes. Midfielder Sara Däbritz punished the Spaniards’ wastefulness arriving to bundle in after Sandra Paños had saved Alexandra Popp’s headed effort. Spain huffed and puffed in the second half, but the German rear-guard stood firm, marshalled by centre backs Marina Hegering and Sara Doorsoun.
The Germans were without injured stars Carolin Simon and Dzsenifer Marozsán but could still name a strong eleven bolstered by Wolfsburg’s Lena Goeßling and Essen’s Lena Oberdorf. Silvia Meseguer and Nahikari García came in for Spain with coach Jorge Vilda clearly wanting to press the German backline into errors.
In difficult, slippery conditions Vilda’s approach looked to be getting results with the German defence caught in possession a couple of times early on. Mariona Caldentey found herself in on goal but Doorsoun made a vital last-ditch challenge. When Jennifer Hermoso then split the back four to play in Garcia, keeper Schult was caught in two minds, but the Spaniard clipped wide. Garcia then found Meseguer in space on the edge of the penalty area, but she too could not bring a save out of Schult.
Germany responded by building some attacks of their own. Svenja Huth broke down the right and threaded in Giulia Gwinn, who shot straight at Sandra Paños. Moments later, Gwinn, looking to add to her goal against China, fired well wide from 25-yards. Popp found Huth in space but her tame effort was easily gathered.
With the game moving end to end in front of a crowd just shy of 21,000, both sides were threatening but lacking a good final ball. Even though torrential rain had now been replaced by brilliant sunshine the crowd needed a goal to keep their spirits up and it was the German’s who got it in the 42nd minute.
Goeßling found Huth, ever busy down the right. The winger crossed and, although Paños parried Popp’s header, Däbritz got ahead of Marta to prod home from a yard out.
Germany’s Head Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg replaced Hendrich with the pacey Klara Bühl at half time; the 18-year old taking the right midfield berth and Gwinn shifting to right full back.
Spain’s Alexia Putellas had the first chance of the second period but headed straight at Schult.
As the match ticked past the hour, Popp and Huth combined well to play Bühl in but she fired straight at the keeper. Bühl’s groundspeed was causing problems and she broke away down the right again greedily blazing over the bar rather than squaring to Däbritz in support.
La Roja continued to press but the Germans stood firm with Doorsoun and Hegering ensuring that the Spanish couldn’t get a clear sight of goal in the box. Meanwhile the world number two ranked side always possessed a threat at the other end. From Germany’s first corner on 75 minutes, Däbritz forced a smart save from Paños low to her right. Shortly before the end Bühl headed into the keeper’s arms and substitute Lina Magull shot wide of the target.
Germany now only need a point to guarantee qualification to the knockout stages and should be confident of getting it against South Africa. Spain need to figure out how to turn possession into goals but will also feel that they can get the result they need in their final group match with China.
Player of the Match: Sara Doorsoun, Germany (commanding performance at the heart of the German defence)
Group A: FRANCE 2-1 NORWAY
France held their nerve to grab all three points in a high intensity contest with Norway at the Stade de Nice. Les Bleues took the lead one minute into the second half when Valérie Gauvin stabbed in from close range. But the large partisan home crowd was stunned on 54 minutes when French defender Wendie Renard inexplicably passed the ball into her own net under no pressure. The tournament hosts increased the tempo but were frustrated by a stubborn Norwegian side before VAR prompted the award of a French penalty. Eugénie Le Sommer did the honours from the spot, saving Renard’s blushes and all but sending France into the last sixteen.
Norway made one change to the team that had convincingly beaten Nigeria. Karina Sævik took the right midfield berth to try and contain French left back Amel Majri, pushing Caroline Graham Hansen up front and dropping Lisa-Marie Utland to the bench.
Corinne Diacre also made one change bringing Gauvin back into the side at centre forward, moving Kadidiatou Diani to the right wing and benching Delphine Cascarino .
France started fast but without troubling the Norway goal. But the pace of the game soon took its toll on the officials’ equipment with the assistant referee needing an early flag change.
Norway were in no mood to let France have it all their own way. On 11 minutes Sævik fired wide after a great run and cross from new Chelsea signing Guro Reiten. Soon after, Majri headed Engen’s effort off the line from a corner.
But the tactical adjustments in the French team were looking like paying dividends. Diani was comfortably the best player in the first half, giving Kristine Minde a torrid time down the right flank. Combining with Amandine Henry and Élise Bussaglia, Diani created several opportunities for Gauvin all of which had Norwegian hearts in mouths but came to nothing.
At the other end Norway were finding ways to keep the home defence honest. Reiten got to the byline again but Sævik blasted over. Then Sævik and Graham Hansen worked a shooting opportunity for Ingrid Moe Wold but Sarah Bouhaddi was equal to it.
At half time Norway would have been delighted, but that happiness lasted less than 60 seconds from the restart. Le Sommer took advantage of Norwegian sloppiness in the midfield, found Henry, who found Majri and, when the defence stood off her, she whipped a superb low cross into Gauvin who made no mistake on the half volley for 1-0.
Any assumptions that the Gresshoppene would now cave in were dispelled within 8 minutes. Hansen and Isabell Herlovsen moved the ball from right to left across the French back four, slid Reiten into space and her cross was turned into French net by centre half Renard.
France turned up the heat again with Henry at the hub of activities, engineering more chances for Gauvin that she was unable to convert.
But, on 69 minutes, VAR came to the hosts’ rescue – spotting Ingrid Engen following through on Marion Torrent’s knee during a 50/50 challenge the Norwegian had appeared to win. It was controversial decision; Engen had played the ball first and referee Bibiana Steinhaus only appeared to be furnished with the knee-strike on her TV replay. A full three minutes elapsed before Le Sommer stepped up, but she kept her cool and struck low to Hjelmseth’s right.
This was a tough test for Les Bleues but they came through, albeit with the benefit of a VAR decision. Norway came to have a go at them, not simply to try to avoid defeat, getting a fair bit of joy for their approach. But France prevailed and that must have given the 34,872 crowd reason to believe that there is a mental toughness to this group that maybe hasn’t been there in previous tournaments. All of which will be of significant interest to other fancied teams in the competition – who will now know that France are no pushovers under pressure, but may also think that going toe to toe with the joint favourites is the best way to get results.
Player of the Match: Valérie Gauvin, France (a continual problem for the Norwegian defence, stuck to her task and got her goal)
Group A: NIGERIA 2-0 KOREA REPUBLIC
Nigeria got their one must-win victory in the group, beating Korea Republic with a goal in either half. A bizarre own goal from Kim Do-Yeon gave the Super Falcons a half time lead they perhaps hadn’t deserved, and Asisat Oshoala doubled that advantage on 75 minutes finishing off a brilliant breakaway move. The result gives the Nigerians a good chance of reaching the round of 16 even though they still have hosts France left to play. Korea now must beat Norway convincingly in their final group game and hope the French rack up a big tally against the African Champions.
Both head coaches made changes to their first eleven from the first-round matches. Super Falcons head coach Thomas Dennerby changed out his goalkeeper and brought in 18-year old Chiamaka Nnadozie, as well as Chidinma Okeke and Chinaza Uchendu to shore up the right flank. Thai Coach Yoon Deok-yeo looked to add some attacking fizz by including Lee Min-a and Kang.
The early fencing in the Le Havre sunshine saw Korea the brighter but it was Nigeria’s Desire Oparanozie who forced the first save from Kim.
The Taegeuk Nangja took 18 minutes to create their first good opportunity. Lee Geum-min turned smartly in the box, but her shot was straight at the young keeper. Lee then fired narrowly wide from 18 years out.
The match tilted on 29 minutes, and against the run of play. Nigeria’s Rita Chikwelu played a searching ball over the top for Oparanozie to chase. Centre back Kim covered the run but rather than play the ball towards the touchline she hooked it goal-wards, past her onrushing keeper. The match was held up for another 2-minute VAR enquiry with Operanozie hoping the officials wouldn’t judge that she’d handled as the ball was flying into the net – both Kims clearly hoping that they would. The call went Nigeria’s way and it was 1-0.
Buoyed by the goal, the Super Falcons now had something to hold on to which emboldened their play, particularly down the wings with Oshoala and Francisca Ordega looking more influential.
And indeed it was Barcelona striker, Oshoala, that took the game away from Korea, latching on to Chidinma Okeke’s pass to beat her marker and round the keeper before finishing from a tight angle. She nearly added to her tally moments later, this time down the left flank, but her touch let her down at the vital moment and Kim was able to collect.
The Koreans kept plugging away but couldn’t trouble Nnadozie until the closing minutes. Substitute Moon’s header was well fielded, and Yeo Min-ji’s smart turn and shot in the box was saved at the near post. Yeo was in the thick of the action right at the end shooting straight at the Nigerian keeper, but to no avail.
Player of the Match: Asisat Oshoala, Nigeria (Troubled Korea throughout and got the important second goal to take the game away from them)