FIFA Women’s World Cup Day 16:

RO16: NORWAY 1-1 AUSTRALIA (a.e.t.)

Norway win 4-1 on penalties

Ingrid Engen (14) scored the winning spot kick for Norway

If this match-up is in any way indicative of the level of drama and excitement fans are going to get from the knockout stages at the Women’s World Cup, we’re all in for a treat. Australia and Norway served up a pulsating contest that just got better and better the longer it went on. And it went all the way, with the Grasshoppers prevailing thanks to four extremely composed spot-kicks from Caroline Graham Hansen, Guro Reiten, Maren Mjelde and Ingrid Engen. The Matildas finished the match with ten players after Alanna Kennedy was dismissed in extra time for preventing a clear goalscoring opportunity, but the fact they were able to hold out for a penalties says everything about their character.

Prior to the extra time and penalty drama in Nice, there was a pretty decent ninety-minute football match. Norway took the physical battle to the Matildas in the first period and got on top through Isabell Herlovsen on 31 minutes when she latched on to Karina Sævik’s ball in behind to stroke past Lydia Williams.

Australia were awarded a penalty on 42 minutes when Norwegian centre back Maria Thorisdottir was adjudged to have handled the ball. VAR ran the usual checks and called on the referee to check her decision. To her great credit, match official Riem Hussein overruled herself, concluding that the ball had come off the defender’s shoulder. Given their mediocre first period, it was a blow for the Matildas heading into the changing rooms at half time.

However, the passionate Australian fans in the stadium got the second half response they were hoping for, with increasing pressure finally paying off through a moment of good fortune. Elise Kellond-Knight’s low curling corner from the right on 83 minutes managed to career through everyone in the six-yard box and find its way into the net.

Counterintuitively, the equaliser buoyed Norway, who nearly sealed the win in stoppage time. Caroline Graham Hansen, having an outstanding match spearheading the Grasshoppers’ attack, cut inside her marker from the left and thumped a swirling effort off the inside of Williams’ left-hand post.

With the scores 1-1 at the end of regulation, an already terrific match got better with 30 more minutes. Striker Sam Kerr forged two opportunities to score early for Australia but found Thorisdottir and Hjelmseth in her way.

Moments later Reiten and Graham combined at the other end, but the Australian defence got enough bodies in the way to deflect Graham’s shot over.  Vilde Bøe Risa then hit a thunderbolt from 30-yards that Williams scrambled to turn over the bar. Norway stepped up the pressure and Graham Hansen was thwarted again by Williams’, this time with a spectacular, fingertip save at full stretch.

As the end of the first period of extra time approached, the Matildas were reduced to ten players. Lisa-Marie Utland stole half a yard in behind Kennedy and, when the experienced defender grabbed a handful of shirt, the striker went down. The referee brandished an immediate red card and Australian Head Coach Ante Milicic had a decision to make about who to throw in central defence with substitute Clare Polkinghorne.

The sending off, complete with VAR check added two more minues – just enough time for Bøe Risa to try her luck again; this time an audacious chip from outside the box that beat Williams but clipped the top of the crossbar.

Into the final fifteen and Polkinghorne’s new defensive partner Chloe Logarzo made a crucial last-ditch block from Reiten after Graham Hansen had put her in on goal. Norway poured forward, seemingly less inclined to a penalty shootout than the ladies in green and gold. Graham had two more efforts which Williams gathered and Utland was denied shortly after, with Australians flinging themselves in the way of her shot.  

At the other end, Kerr and Caitlin Foord combined to tee up Tameka Yallop but she could only fire straight at Hjemseth.

Graham Hansen got the penalty shoot-out started, side-footing to Williams’ left and suddenly Australia’s dogged resistance started to crack. Kerr spooned her effort over the bar and Hjelmseth saved Emily Gielnik’s attempt. By the time Catley had converted her spot kick to keep the Matildas’ hopes alive, Norway were three goals to the good and poised to move on to a last eight match up with either England or Cameroon. Engen stepped up, Williams hedged on a straight drive down the middle and the Norwegian midfielder calmly slid the ball to the keeper’s left to take them to their first quarter final since 2007.

Seriously, get the DVD of this one…

Player of the match: Caroline Graham Hansen, Norway (Unplayable on the night running at, and through, the Australian defence – led from the front by converting the first penalty)

RO16: GERMANY 3-0 NIGERIA

Alexandra Popp reaches 100 caps for Germany and celebrates with a goal versus Nigeria

Germany became the first side to reach the quarter finals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup with a drama-free victory over a Nigeria side decimated by injuries and suspensions to key players.

Alexandra Popp, celebrating her 100th cap, headed in the opener from a corner. VAR was examined to identify whether Svenja Huth was offside and impeding the goalkeeper, but the goal stood.

Sara Däbritz doubled the German’s advantage from the penalty spot after Lina Magull was poleaxed by Osinachi Ohalen. The referee hadn’t awarded the spot kick, but VAR was again in full effect, halting the action and penalising a player that had definitely played the ball, but caught her opponent on the follow through – reminiscent of France’s penalty against Norway in the group stages.

Lea Schüller wrapped things up late in the second period, seizing on a loose back pass to fire past Chiamaka Nnadozie. It was the young Essen striker’s first World Cup goal in her first start. Incredibly Schüller already has 9 goals in 16 appearances for Die Nationalelf.

Germany, who continue to quietly go about their business in the purportedly ‘easier’ half of the draw, are now on course to meet the winners of Sweden and Canada.

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