The 2019 Women’s World Cup Finals, Group F: Chile, Shattered
The United States of America, Sweden, Chile, Thailand
So near, yet so far. For a while, it looked as though Thailand might even go into this match with a quarter of a chance of getting through to the second round of the competition, but Cameroon’s last gasp winning goal against New Zealand just over an hour before kick-off in this evening’s Group F match left Thailand needing to run up a cricket score in order to sneak a third place spot and effectively out of the competition. For Chile, though, a place in the next round felt as though it may be attainable. A three goal win would be enough. They came within literally inches of pulling it off.
They hit the woodwork twice in the first half, but laboured a little against a Thailand side playing without a care in the world following the confirmation of their own elimination. Four minutes into the second half they took the lead when a shot from Yanara Aedo bounced out off the post and in off the legs of the Thailand goalkeeper Boonsing. It was the slice of luck that Chile needed, and they started to swarm forward in search of a second goal to get themselves back in control of a place in the next round of the competition, only to find that their attacking options were just a little too blunt to force a way through. Half-chances came and went before, with eleven minutes to play, Maria Jose Urrutia flicked a throughball past Boonsing to double their lead.
A match which had been played at a relatively slow tempo was by now reaching a crescendo, and a couple of minutes after the second goal, Urrutia managed to flick the ball past Boonsing, only for Pitsamai Sornsai to contort her body on the goal-line to turn it away. The VAR, however, had other ideas and pulled play back to look at Boonsing’s momentum as Urrutia turned the ball past her. On second, third, fourth, five, sixth and seventh viewing, the referee’s review was that Boonsing’s challenge on Urrutia had been excessive and a penalty kick was awarded to Chile. Five minutes to play, and one shot against a goalkeeper who’d had a fairly miserable evening. The ball was handed to midfielder Francisca Lara with a second round match against England at stake, and Lara… cracked a firm shot against the Thai crossbar and out.
Chile didn’t have enough about them to fashion any clear chances, even through the seven minutes of stoppage-time at the end of the match, so at full-time their players sunk to the ground, having come so close to marking their first appearance in the Women’s World Cup by surviving the group stages of the competition. Ultimately, though, they didn’t quite have enough to get over the line and Nigeria, who may have felt a little hard done by as a result of their own penalty kick farrago against France a couple of days ago, qualified for the next round in their place by just the one goal on goal difference. Nigeria will now play Germany in the second round of the competition instead. It was a heartbreaking moment for Chile, who have provided the tournament with one of its breakout stars in the form of Christiane Endler, the Paris Saint Germain goalkeeper who had performed with such distinction in her previous two games against Sweden and the USA and who kept a clean sheet last night with the minimum of fuss.
Following their rout of Thailand and a comfortable win against Chile, two schools of thought seemed to have developed surrounding the United States of America’s team this summer. The first was of the opinion this USA might have looked impressive against two of the tournament’s lowest ranked teams but hadn’t faced too much of a test yet. The second saw the consummate ease with which they’d sailed through their first match and recognised the extent to which their strength and physicality would likely be enough to beat just about anybody. Sweden was supposed to be the big test for the USA. They passed it with some degree of comfort, though the win didn’t come without a degree of assistance from a generous Swedish defence.
Barely three minutes had been played when the USA won a corner. Megan Rapinhoe drilled the ball low with the Swedish defence still apparently half-asleep and Lindsey Horan turned the ball in from a yard out. Such is the pernicious nature of the all-seeing eye that even this moment had to be checked and double-checked before being awarded (she was onside, but only just.) By the time the stadium clock reached six minutes from kick-off, supporters had seen barely two and half minutes of actual football. The USA dominated the rest of the half, but they were assisted by a Swedsh performance that was full of wayward passes and cheaply conceding possession. Five minutes into the second half, Tobin Heath added a second goal – later credited to the Swedish defender Jonna Andersson as an own goal – to put the match beyond much doubt. although this was another goal tainted by VAR, with the final decision being that Carli Lloyd had not been interfering with play at the time of the goal.
The USA team at this tournament is outstanding, but one can easily see why they’re criticised in the way that they are. Yesterday evening they overpowered another team, but their defence is nowhere near as strong as their attack and they were brittle in possession when trying to move the ball out from defensive positions. And, critics may well argue, they may well have ot past Sweden with a degree of comfort but were still dependent on some atrocious defending for their first goal and a sizable deflection for their second last night. There had been considerable talk before the match over whether it might even be beneficial for them to lose this match in order to avoid a potential quarter-final against France, but the mentality of the team was never likely to be able to deliver that. The USA go marching on, though we have yet to see how that defence reacts to sustained pressure. Other than that, though, they’ve clearly and evidently been the strongest team in the tournament so far.