Today the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off its first round of matches in Winnipeg and it did not disappoint. Pulling up to Investors Group Field, pardon me, Winnipeg Stadium as re-branded by FIFA, the excitement was thick in the air. I’ve been to many events at the stadium before but none with an atmosphere quite like this. It was literally a party everywhere you looked. The costumes, noise makers, singing and dancing, it all signaled that something big was about to happen and it made you feel proud and honored to be a part of it.
This was your classic “Technical vs Physical” battle. Nigeria opened the first five minutes very strong, controlling the tempo and playing very direct. Nigeria were the strong underdog but I guess they never got the memo because they certainly weren’t playing the role through 20 minutes.
Sweden’s best early chances came from a few corner kicks and in the 20th minute against the run of play they were very fortunate to open the scoring with a deflection off a Nigerian player that counted as an own goal (OG).
Oshoala (#8) of Nigeria had a very strong game to that point and you knew she would put her stamp on the game before its end. Either initiating the attack or the receiving focal point of it, Oshoala was a constant in Nigeria’s relentless attack. Playing direct, long-balls and splitting through balls into the attacking third over and over, the Swedish defenders had there hands full all night long with the directness of the Nigerian attack.
But again, it was Sweden to capitalize off yet another corner kick putting them comfortably up 2-0 in the 31st minute. A lead they carried into half time despite Nigeria creating better and more frequent scoring chances from open play.
Half Time: Sweden 2 – Nigeria 0
When the teams emerged for the second half, Nigeria picked up where they left off at the end of the first and scored quickly in the 50th minute to get themselves back into the game. Immediately following their first goal, Oshoala for Nigeria tied it up with another well worked goal in the 53rd minute.
Sweden did well to recover from blowing a 2-0 lead and settled into their more technical passing and possession game which saw them take the lead again in the 60th minute, 3-2. The build up and finish of Sweden’s third goal was superb, easily their best open play attack of the match. Feeling more relaxed, the Swedes took control of the games tempo and held possession for long periods of time. Unfortunately they never really penetrated the Nigerian final third or looked very threatening in attack after their third goal. It was almost as if Sweden were content to hold the lead and see out the match. This of course is seldom a good plan against a powerful team playing as direct and quick to counter as Nigeria.
Once again the Swedes paid the price when yet another Nigerian attack was unleash in behind the Swedish defense, an attack that the Nigerians utilized from the opening minute of the match yet the Swedes somehow failed to adapt to and just like that in the 87th minute, Nigeria get the crucial leveling goal. Having come from behind twice, the underdog Nigerians were very happy with the draw but you get the sense they could have and should have walked away with the 3 points. This certainly did not look like a match between the 5th (Sweden) vs 33rd (Nigeria) ranked teams.
USA vs Australia
With the stadium at full capacity and voice, this game was always meant to be the show piece match of the day. It did surprise but did not disappoint!
The Australian’s came out determined in the opening 10 minutes. Playing a high intensity pressing game, Australia was able to recover the ball quickly and often when out of possession. Their build-up play was equally impressive, carving through the American defense to create some great early opportunities. The question from the beginning was always whether or not they could maintain this frenetic pace for 90 minutes.
But with their first chance on goal, the USA scored at 10 minutes with a shot from distance, a reminder to the Australian’s that with the level of quality on the American team, they don’t need many chances to make you pay.
Australia responded well, they continued their high tempo, high intensity play, recovering balls quickly and penetrating well in attack but taking too many touches in and around the 18 yard box cost them a few scoring chances. However, their persistence paid off when Australia scored the leveling goal at 27 minutes from a beautifully worked setup and finish. The one touch ball movement from the Australian’s was very impressive and defensively they did well to limit the few chances that the USA did have to shots from distance.
Going into half time Australia would fancy their chances for a result having responded so well coming from behind and creating better scoring opportunities MORE frequently than the USA.
Half Time: USA 1 – Australia 1
The opening 10 minutes of the second half proved a back and forth stalemate until the USA took the lead again in the 61st minute, 2-1. Could Australia answer back again?
Over the following 15 minutes Australia had noticeably lost the jump in their step and the tenacious pressing game they showed in the first half simply wasn’t there anymore. The USA was doing a great job forcing Australia to defend deeper in their own half and eliminated the Australian attacks through the middle, forcing their build-up and attack to the wings.
The Australians were looking very tired with the Americans penetrating the final third with ease and were rewarded in the 76th minute with a fine goal, 3-1.
Exhausted but resilient, the Australians fashioned a few chances for themselves in the final 10 minutes but again, too many touches led to squandered opportunities. At 3-1 down in the final 10 minutes, any opportunity with the ball at your feet in or around the 18 yard box is a green light to shoot but the Aussie’s wasted too many of these chances throughout the game.
The 3-1 final score was a stark reminder that football is truly a game of two halves. Australia the better team in the first and perhaps a little unlucky not to take a lead into the break but the USA won the war of attrition in the end. After absorbing all that the Australian’s could throw at them, the Americans fitness and composure lead to a dominating second half and a well earned opening group stage win.