By CAITLIN MURRAY
WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Before Group D kicked off play in the Women’s World Cup, the exaggerated term “Group of Death” seemed like it may be more hype than anything else.
The matches of the Women’s World Cup were going as expected and there was a loose but clear pecking order for how the results should fall. The expanded field of 24 teams meant the real action would begin in the knockout rounds.
But then Monday happened. Or as American forward Sydney Leroux put it: “People didn’t name our group the Group of Death for nothing. They’re going to be good games.”
Leroux and her teammates watched the Nigeria vs. Sweden match while they prepared to face Australia later Monday and it was an exciting start to the tournament, she said. Certainly, fans would agree and it seems the Group of Death is delivering.
To open Group D, Nigeria shocked both Sweden and the fans at Winnipeg Stadium to come back twice for a 3-3 draw. Sweden, picked by many as possible World Cup winners, were dominated for stretches by a team that is woefully underfunded and hasn’t made it out of the group stage in the last three World Cups.
Then, the Americans beat Australia, but struggled to do so, spending the first half looking remarkably vulnerable. A fortuitous deflection on an otherwise unchallenging Megan Rapinoe strike and two massive saves from Hope Solo kept the U.S. in the game as Australia could’ve easily pulled far ahead.
In fact, after Monday’s result, the Australian federation’s own match report summed up the match thusly: “The USA, well, they just aren’t that good.” That’s perhaps a harsh assessment, but the report added that the Americans “were short of ideas going forward and outmaneuvered tactically,” which is something even the American players freely admitted after Monday’s match.
Group D’s first results make it clear that the Americans can’t allow any notions of having an easy game during the group stage, which can be a bit of a grind. For U.S. head coach Jill Ellis, though, the growing pains and challenges early will make her side stronger, which makes the Group of Death an advantage.
“When the draw happened and people talked about the Group of Death, but that was the one positive: you’re not going to ease into these opening games,” she said. “You’ve got to be prepared from the very first whistle. So I think in terms of mentality and having tough matches, going into a halftime tied up, those things serve you well down the line.”
The performance from Nigeria, ranked 33rd in the world, against No. 5-ranked Sweden is particularly interesting coupled with how the Americans struggled to handle Australia’s speed.
With all the pace Australia had to stretch the American defense and get in behind the back line, Nigeria has even more of it. Most of Nigeria’s players have come through their youth team, which has been very successful, including a runner-up spot in last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup. Of the 23 players Nigeria sent to Canada, 19 are under the age of 24. The USWNT’s average age is around 29.
But first, the Americans will face Sweden, who for all their stumbling against Nigeria, looked scarily potent in the attack, especially Sweden’s third goal, which was set up by a sequence of several quick passes, including a back heel flick, before Linda Sembrant got on the end of it.
There’s also the little matter of their coach, Pia Sundhage, who led the Americans to a 2011 Women’s World Cup final and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Now, she leads a Swedish team packed with talent and it seems just about anything can happen when they face the Americans on Friday. In a way, that’s sort of the idea of World Cups, and Group D is delivering.
But for the Americans, as always, it’s business as usual.
“We came here and we didn’t really care who we played,” Leroux said. “We’re going to have to play good teams no matter what. You might as well play them in the group stage.”
wondering if Rampone is going to get a start, maybe against Nigeria’s speed? I like how Johnson’s been playing in defense all Spring and she gives up her body which I always respect in a player, but maybe she’s a bit slower and her possession game a bit rushed
what I saw when Heath came on was it gave width right while Leroux and Rapinoe were out stretching the Aussies on the other flank already. also the weakside mid pinched defensively to add the extra body needed to matchup against the Aussie 3 woman midfield. all of this took a while for Ellis and co. to do after the initial formation and tactical whiff.
and I don’t mind Abby but the matchups need to be right imo. Against Pia’s Sweden she has everything to play for with Pia’s no nonsense assessment of her game and that she’d be riding pine if she was still USA coach. when she’s on the field of course it affects the way the US looks to attack, looking to play to her strengths. I think Ellis has to decide if she wants to play that kind of soccer at the start or end of the game vs. Sweden becasue Abby will play. She had two header chances that she missed but it’s good she got open
and does anyone know where match stats can be found for the game that include tackling stats?
I agree; Heath can win games.
agreed. can’t keep starting wambach. press doesnt stay wide enough to create space. play her up top with leroux (at least until morgan can go from the start). I’d start Heath on the wing or you could go with O’Reilly (prefer Heath, she looked great against aussies)
I only was able to watch the last 35 minutes or so, but they looked much better after Heath came on.
We’ll need a more balanced attack. If the next teams are better at defending, they’ll have an easier time blocking out Rapinoe.
But I’d say give Wambach one more chance. If nothing else, she lulls defenders into a false sense of security. Then we unleash one if the speedier forwards.
Agree that the USWNT struggled for the first 30 minutes against Australia, but they improved significantly there after and ended the match in complete control. Personally, I am still questioning a variety of Jill Ellis’s tactical and player decisions. The 4-4-2 gets two strikers on the field, yes. And while the US team has the best depth on that area of the field in the tournament so I understand the reasoning to get more strikers on the pitch, I think it hurts the overall play and shape of the team. Holiday and Lloyd both look like they would enjoy an extra player to focus on defensive duties so they can roam a bit more and find the ball. Lloyd, especially.
Even if Ellis wants to continue with the 4-4-2, it is time to move Press centrally. She is not a winger. Wambach seems more suited for a late cameo role, as her age prohibits the team from playing at full pace. Finally, start Tobin Heath. Her and Rapinoe are the most technically gifted players on the team, make excellent decisions with the ball, and can unlock any defense in one pass. As soon as Heath entered in the 2nd half Australia barely touched the ball. Her and Rapinoe are magicians, let the players play.