Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Women's World Cup Day 3: USWNT prevails, Nigeria gets a big point

Sweden 3-3 Nigeria
A most unfortunate own goal got the storing started for Sweden. In the 21st minute Sweden took a rather non-threatening corner that just bounced wrong for Nigeria. It came up and off the chest of Desire Opranozie and into her own goal. A corner was responsible for giving the Swedes a 2-0 lead as well. Nilla Fischer knocked home a second attempt after the first was cleared off the line.

Nigeria came alive in the second half after they were down a pair. Ngozi Okobi used some talented footwork to coral a cross and blast it in on the half volley in the 50th minute. Three minutes later, Asisat Oshoala put Nigeria on terms by clawing through the Sweden defense to get to a through ball and a break away.

Sweden would not settle for the 2-2 draw, however. Linda Sembrant put them back in front in the 60th minute. Nigeria's final equalizer came late. In the 87th minute, Francisca Ordega caught the Swedish defense flat footed once again and got free for a breakaway goal.

It was a thrilling second half comeback by the Nigerians and a crucial point that could decide their ultimate fate in the group of death. Sweden should look at this as a defeat. It was three points they really should have had. This was supposed to be their easiest match. They have the USA and Australia remaining and both of those should be more of a challenge. The draw make the difference between them crashing out in the group stage or moving on to the round of 16.

Cameroon 6-0 Ecuador
I either severely overestimated Ecuador or severely underestimated Cameroon. I was expecting a fairly high scoring draw, but instead we were given another hammering. This win can likely put Cameroon into the round of 16 as one of the better third place finishers. This could be their only three points of the tournament, but the six goal thrashing gives them a real edge in goal difference, which will likely determine who advances among those third placers.

United States 3-1 Australia
The USA got off to a really shaky start. For pretty much the entire first half, Australia was the better team. They forced Hope Solo into action after only five minutes. Emily Van Egmond got to a lose ball at the top of the box and fired it on goal only to find the diving Solo's hands. Solo was forced to make two more great saves in the first half.

Megan Rapinoe got a lucky first goal for the USA in the 12th minute. Her shot deflected of the knee of Laura Alleway before going in. Lisa de Vanna brought the Matilda's even in the 27th minute after the USA failed to clear a free kick. de Vanna was allowed far too much space and was able to score with ease.

The USA looked much more comfortable in the second half. They were able to hang on to the ball more and make the Aussies work to get it back. This noticeably tired Australia and allowed the USA to send more and more numbers forward. They got their reward just after the hour mark with a transition goal from Christen Press. Sydney Leroux made a nice run along the left flank before finding Press with a perfect pass. Rapinoe confidently bagged her second of the match with a well placed shot in the 78th minute.

For a while in this one, the USWNT looked a lot like the USMNT. Their back line was quite porous and the only thing that saved them was their goalkeeper. In fact, I want to give Hope Solo the woman of the match. Her three critical saves early in the game kept things from becoming an Aussie blowout. Yes, Rapinoe will get all the headlines for her brace, but it was Solo that kept things in check early on when the outfield players weren't exactly getting the job done.

There is plenty of room for improvement if the USA wants to life the trophy when all is said and done. The midfield needs to settle down sooner. They were trying to force too many long balls into the box instead of patiently working it in there. When they were more patient with the ball they were able to hang onto it longer and create more chances.

Jill Ellis might also want to rethink her starting strike combination. Sydney Leroux and Abby Wambach are both great players, but they weren't working well together. Wambach, in particular, seems to have lost a step compared to four years ago. She was just a beat behind many balls coming her way. Leroux did well with her vision to pick out Press for the winning goal, but she struggled to get free, even with Wambach out there to take attention away from her.

Overall, it was a comfortable win with an uncomfortable start. IF the USWNT comes out a little lest nervously on Friday night against Sweden they will have a much better time. The Swedes proved today that their defenders can be a little slow to react to good through balls and quick, driving runs. If they USA can take advantage of that weakness, it could be a pretty high scoring affair.

Japan 1-0 Switzerland
The defending champs open their tournament with Aya Miyama's converted penalty just before the half hour mark. Switzerland had more than their fair share of opportunities to level, but each one failed to score. Japan also had their chances to put another goal or two in. It was a well played match on both sides, but Switzerland really would have liked to have earned a point in this one. The Cameroonian destruction of Ecuador puts them a little behind the eight ball in the race for automatic qualification to the round of 16. They should still get the job done with a big win over Ecuador, but it just won't be as easy with this early setback.

Today's Matches
Four more matches round out the first round of group play today. France and England get things going in Moncton at 1pm. France are one of the best women's soccer nations while England are good, but atill a little behind compared to some of the other traditional men's powers. I like France to win here, but I expect England to at least keep it interesting. Let's go with 3-1 to France.

Next up, in Montreal, is a couple of free flowing Group E teams, Spain and Costa Rica. Both are making their first World Cup appearance and both are known for being attack oriented. Spain should prove the better debutante. I give them a 2-0 victory. Kickoff is at 4pm.

Also at 4pm, this time back in Moncton, Colombia and Mexico get started. Both sides also lack the credibility of their respective men's outfits. It could be a bit sloppy at times, let's go with a 1-1 draw.

Finally, at 7pm in Montreal, Brazil get's their redemption campaign started against South Korea. Brazil's star, Marta, is tied for the most goals in Women's World Cup history with the new retired German Brigit Prinz. Expect her to get her record breaking goal at some point in Canada. South Korea is known for their defense (they held the USWNT to a scoreless draw just a week before the World Cup), so it might not come tonight. Brazil will still win, but they won't score as much as they's like. I say a 2-0 final.

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