Group C: AUSTRALIA 3-2 BRAZIL
Australia came from two goals down to beat Brazil 3-2 in Montpelier. It was Brazil’s first group stage defeat since 1995. Marta opened the scoring for the Seleção with her 16th World Cup goal and Cristiane doubled their advantage after brilliant approach play down the left. Caitlin Foord got one back for Australia before the break, sparking a second half fightback through Chloe Logarzo’s strike and a Mônica own goal.
Marta returned to the Brazilian line up following a thigh injury, while the Matildas brought Elise Kellond-Knight in at left back and Emily Gielnik on the right of midfield to help double up on Brazil’s number ten.
Both sides were sloppy in possession early on and there were several defensive turnovers that nearly led to opportunities, the best of which fell to Aussie Tameka Yallop who appeared to be fouled by Thaisa as she entered the penalty area. VAR checked the decision and found that Yallop had already handled the ball before the challenge.
On 26 minutes, VAR was called into action again. Tamires engineered a cross from the left, Letícia Santos collected under pressure from Kellond-Knight and the Australian was adjudged to have grabbed her shirt.
Marta stepped up to send Lydia Williams the wrong way from the spot. It is the fifth consecutive World Cup she has scored in.
Australia look to be in big trouble, squandering possession in midfield while Brazil’s poor pre-tournament form was becoming a forgotten memory. Marta, in particular, was roaming the left flank showing all the flair and skill that has made her a superstar of the women’s game.
Australia had their first meaningful effort on 37 minutes when Sam Kerr got on the end of Kellond-Knight’s cross but found Barbara in exactly the right place at the near post.
Brazil increased their lead two minutes later with the best team goal of the competition so far. Tamires nutmegged Gielnik and played Debinha into the left channel; the winger fizzed in a cross and Cristiane read the flight of the ball better than Catley to head into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
The Australians desperately needed a response before half time to prevent Brazil turning this into an exhibition match. Barbara saved comfortably from Gielnik after good work by Carpenter on the right, while the fourth official displayed a minimum of three minutes stoppage time.
Gielnik’s centre found Kerr arriving at the back post but Monica cleared off the line. Australia recycled the ball to Yallop, her cross was flicked on by Logarzo and Foord arrived at the back post to volley in.
Brazil reappeared for the second half without both veterans Marta and Formiga and this seemed to shake some of the confidence and fluency from their passing and movement. Debinha had the first goal attempt, bursting into the Australian box and blasting wide, but the Matildas would wrest control and start to pen the Brazilians into their own half.
The ladies in green and gold equalised on 58 minutes, probing down the right before Logazo hit what looked like a cross towards the back post. Sam Kerr attempted to get a touch ahead of her markers, but the ball eluded everyone and crept inside the upright.
Brazil kicked off and almost immediately retook the lead. Debinha, ever dangerous on the left took Cristiane’s pass in her stride but couldn’t get the connection she was looking for.
The decider came on 67 minutes with VAR heavily involved. Alanna Kennedy hit a long drive towards Brazil’s penalty area. Monica was backpedalling to get to the ball before Kerr and headed into her own net. The assistant referee’s flag went up for offside, but VAR suggested that the referee should double check that Kerr was active. After several long looks at the video replay, match official Esther Staubli decided that Kerr had neither been active at time of the original pass nor distracted the hapless defender: 3-2, the turnaround had been achieved.
Now the Australians had something to hold on to they looked to break up play in midfield and stifle any rhythm that the Brazil side tried to establish. By 84 minutes they were running the ball into the corners. Game management was key and Ante Mililic’s side executed the final twenty minutes very professionally.
This result blows Group C wide open. Italy, Australia and Brazil all have one win each. The Italians play Jamaica next to try and seize control of the group. Five minutes before halftime today the Matildas looked dead and buried with Brazil cruising. That they were able to turn this match around demonstrates a fantastic group spirit, providing the squad with a huge confidence boost ahead of their final group match against the Reggae Girlz, and surely beyond.
Player of the match: Chloe Logarzo, Australia (Tireless work rate contributing to a great team performance, but edges her teammates out with a goal and an assist)
Group B: SOUTH AFRICA 0-1 CHINA PR
China have never failed to get out of the group stages at a World Cup and they kept that record alive with a 1-0 victory over a South African team who gave everything they had, but just couldn’t muster the quality they needed in front of goal. Li Ying scored the all-important winner on 40 minutes to get the Steel Roses back in the mix for a place in the last sixteen.
Clearly expecting to enjoy more possession of the ball, Chinese Head Coach, Jia Xiuquan, made three changes to his side that narrowly lost to Germany – bringing in more technical players in Wang Shuang, Wang Yan and Li Ying. Desiree Ellis made four changes including her goalkeeper. Nothando Vilakazi missed the game due to suspension following her red card against Spain.
The first half was all China, who kept possession well, but lacked the final ball. Wang Shuang fired over from distance; then Gu Yasha cut inside her marker at pace but lost composure and blazed high and wide.
Five minutes before the break Li Ying got on the end of Zhang Rui’s cross and cleverly volleyed in off the outside of her left boot.
Sensing they may be able to get the job done before half time, the Chinese pressed forward in numbers. Wang Shanshan went closest to extending the lead, her header hitting the bar from a corner.
Banyana Banyana started the second period very much the better side with Thembi Kgatlana’s pace always a danger for the Chinese back line. Noko Matlou headed wide from a corner and Kholosa Biyana tested Peng from 25-yards.
But as the half unfolded, China found ways to stifle the South African front pairing and control the midfield areas – substitute Lou Jiahui in particular coming on and making an instant impact down China’s right.
The late chances all fell to the Steel Roses. Lin Yuping headed just over from Wang Shuang’s free kick. Han Peng then brought out an excellent save at full stretch from Kaylin Swart. As the clock ticked into stoppage time Lou played Yang Li in on goal but the South African stopper sprung acrobatically to her left to deny the Chinese a second goal.
China now head into a final group game showdown with Spain knowing that even just a draw could be enough to progress. For Banyana Banyana, well, they face the Germans next knowing that even a win may not be enough. Whatever happens, their Federation should acknowledge that they have made a lot of new friends and admirers in the game – not least because they’ve played a refreshing brand of football for a World Cup debutant, that has hinged on trying to win matches rather than trying not to lose.
Player of the match: Li Ying, China (non-stop movement off the ball in the Chinese attack and got her reward with the winning goal)