The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group E: With A Game To Spare
Netherlands 3-1 Jamaica
One of the most notable themes of the 2019 Women’s World Cup has been an assertion of control by some European teams that haven’t necessarily been previously considered amongst the strongest in the world. We’ve already seen both Spain and Italy outperform in their matches – although Spain didn’t quite have enough to take anything from their match with Germany – and now the Netherlands, the current European champions but barely spoken of pre-tournament as possible winners of the tournament, have eased through to the second round with a comfortable if slightly laboured win against Cameroon at the Stade de Hainaut in Valenciennes. The win featured two goals from Vivianne Miedema, the Arsenal striker those brace yesterday put her on sixty international goals at just twenty-two years of age, a record which, if it continues at anything like this pace, will one day come to threaten the international record currently held by Canada’s Christine Sinclair.
On this particularly sunny afternoon, though, the Netherlands required a little fortitude to get past a Cameroon side that is currently ranked forty-sixth in the world but which had put in a spirited performance in their opening match against Canada before losing by a goal to nil. Most of the first half was a nervy affair, with the Dutch team being cheered on by more than 10,000 supporters, but the game finally came to life in the last few minutes before the break, with Shanice van de Sanden crossing for Miedema to score for the Netherlands before Gabrielle Onguéné, probably Cameroon’s most impressive player over their two matches so far, brought Cameroon level a couple of minutes later. If the Dutch team went in at half-time unnerved at the speed with which Cameroon had forced their way back into the game, though, those nerves were settled somewhat what Dominique Bloodworth gave them the lead three minutes into the second half. A second goal from Miedema scored with five minutes left to play sealed the deal.
The Netherlands, therefore, are through to the second round of the competition with a game to spare, and find themselves in the somewhat luxurious position of having a final group match against Canada which they can use at their leisure. Fancy playing some of the squad players in a match that makes no difference concerning whether they can get through? The floor is theirs. A run-out in a match against stronger opposition with nothing existential at stake could prove to be just the third group match they need, and with Canada needing a result from it all little more than the Netherlands do, it could prove to be just the break that the Dutch team needs. They have thus far been one of the most impreesive teams that we’ve seen, albeit against somewhat limited opposition.
Canada 2-0 New Zealand
In the shadow of the Alps on Saturday evening, meanwhile, Canada laboured a little before eventually coming through as comfortable winners against New Zealand. After forty-five minutes of football that they’d dominated without being able to find the back of the net it looked as though this might be a frustrating evening for a Canadian team that had struggled similarly to get going in their opening match against Cameroon during the week. The closest they came to scoring came when a close range header from Christine Sinclair – still the world record women international goalscorer but still without a goal after two matches in this tournament – hit the crossbar, only for the follow-up effort to be cleared off the New Zealand goal-line twice before being scrambled to safety.
Against a New Zealand side that had upset England during their warm-up matches, though, their second half performance was confident and assured enough to ensure that Canada maintained their one hundred per cent record from their two matches and are through with a game to spare. Three minutes in, Canada broke the deadlock when Nichelle Prince was released into space on the left and her low ball into the penalty area was rolled across the New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler by Jessie Fleming. As the second half progressed, the chances started to flow a little more easily. Prince was frustrated by a superb one handed save from Nayler before, but with eleven minutes left to play Canada finally doubled their lead when Sinclair’s downward header bounced out off the post and Prince bundled the ball over the line from the rebound.
Canada and the Netherlands, then, are through from this group with a game left to play and can play out their match in as friendly or as competitive an atmosphere as they prefer. The winners of this group plays the runners-up from Group D, which is going to be either England or Japan, depending on the way their final match goes, while the runners-up from Group F, which is likely to either be Sweden or even the United States of America, should Sweden be able to beat them in their upcoming group match. With both Canada and the Netherlands featuring strikers of the quality of Sinclair and Miedema, either side will provide strong opposition for whoever they come up in the next round of the competition. New Zealand and Cameroon, meanwhile, will go into their game knowing what they need to do in order to get through as one of the third-placed qualifiers for the next round. Whether it’s even mathematically possible or not is a question that will answered over the next few days or so.