The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group E: Oh Canada

Canada 1-0 Cameroon

The absolute thrashing is a staple of any sport that is still developing, but there has been little evidence of this happening at the Women’s World Cup so far apart from the magnificent French performance against South Korea in the opening match on Friday night. Indeed the stronger teams have, on the whole, found the going rather more difficult than they probably expected, and this was a theme that continued last night in Montpellier as Canada scrambled their way to a single goal win against a feisty but limited Cameroon team. With the Netherlands (European Championships winners in 2017) and New Zealand (only ranked nineteenth in the world at present but recent winners against both England and Norway in friendlies) still to play, this group could well turn out to be something of a Group of Death, or at least a Group of Potential Serious Injury.

Talking of serious injuries, this was again a match most notable for the robustness of the tackling, with three challenges flying in before half-time that might have been greeted with red cards. The game was won by a far post header by Kadeisha Buchanan on the stroke of half-time, the sort of set piece goal that has not been uncommon in this tournament so far, but this only tells part of the story of a match in which Cameroon settled in the second half and would have had a reasonable chance of grabbing a point had they not been almost entirely ineffectual in the final third of the pitch.

Canada, meanwhile, will likely be pleased with having picked up all three points but very little else from a performance that can only be considered underwhelming for a team ranked fifth in the world at present, even if this result did mark a ninth clean sheet in their last ten matches. While Canada were defensively able, though, they were leaden-footed in attack. Striker Christine Sinclair may have scored a jaw-dropping 181 International goals for her country, but she’s 35 now and was successfully hustled out of the game by the Cameroon defence. With Sinclair frequently looking isolated in attacking positions, Canada seemed a little light on alternative attacking options. Troublingly, they haven’t  scored more than one goal in a World Cup finals match since 2007. It was a winning start for Canada, but Cameroon could take a lot of positives from their performance in a group in which they were written up as also-rans before the tournament began.

Netherlands 1-0 New Zealand

As if to underscore the feeling of group of deathliness hanging over this particular group, it took the Netherlands until the very last minute to secure a win against New Zealand this afternoon. The Dutch national team’s recent ascent within the international game has been rapid. Having failed to make any significant impact upon the European game for several decades, they finally qualified for the World Cup finals four years ago and reached the round of sixteen before elimination, but it’s in the European Championships that they’ve really made their mark, losing in the semi-finals in 2013 before coming up with a surprise win in that tournament four years later. Even more unexpected than this was the result of the 2018 Algarve Cup, which was cancelled due to bad weather and subsequently awarded to the Netherlands and Sweden.

This afternoon, though, they toiled and toiled against New Zealand without much of an end result. New Zealand have never got past the group stages of this competition before, but they proved their chops with a pre-tournament win in England and proved again this afternoon that they are nothing if not obstinate. The Dutch dominated possession in the opening stages, only for New Zealand to hit the crossbar after eleven minutes with a shot from the nominally-non-determinative (on this occasion) Olivia Chance following a bout of lackadaisical defending. As the game wore on, however, the Netherlands controlled possession more and more, though they struggled to convert much of that into tangible chances, and when they did they found Erin Nayler to be a fairly formidable opponent in the New Zealand goal.

Throughout the second half, New Zealand retreated further and further into defensive positions, giving every impression of having settled for a point (which would have been a not inconsiderable achievement), but this can be a dangerous policy and so it proved, on this occasion. The teams were already a more than a minute into stoppage-time at the end of the match when Lilith Beerensteyn looped a head across the goal for Jill Roord – who will be playing in England for Arsenal next season – to score from close range. Beerensteyn had been on the pitch for four minutes at the time of the goal, Roord for fifteen. These are what are commonly known as “impact substitutes.” New Zealand will naturally be highly disappointed at having conceded such a late goal, but with both matches in this group having finished in one-nil wins, none of the four teams on Group E are out of this competition yet.