Today we have five takeaways from the first three days of 2019 Women's World Cup games in France, involving Groups A, B and C. We will be doing frequent updates during the tournament, reporting live from France starting later this week.
1. France off to dream start.
Despite severe winds from a storm racing across the country, the 2019 Women's World Cup opened on Friday, June 7 at the Park de Princes in Paris. A sellout crowd of 45,261 watched France blow out Korea Republic 4-0, behind goals by defender Wendie Renaud (2), midfielder Amandine Henry and forward Eugenie Le Sommer (who all play with 2018-19 French League and UEFA Women's Champions League 2018-19 winners Olympique Lyon. France's precise attacks resulted in 21 shots compared with only 4 for the Korea Republic (8-2 for shots on goal). Goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi (also Lyon) recorded the shutout in her third Women's World Cup, with comparatively little to do. Right winger Delphine Cascarino (22), yet another Lyon player, was outstanding—particularly in the first half as France gained a 3-0 lead at the break. It could have been 4-0 but Griedge Mbock Bathy (again Lyon) was determined by VAR to just be slightly off-side with her foot when she scored midway through the first 45 minutes. Renaud had another first half goal disallowed as well. South Korea did not take advantage but a few times they did show that France is vulnerable to quick counter attacks, which their future other opponents will try to exploit, but Les Bleus is fluid, in form and a delight to watch. France's progress will help spur interest in the tournament at home and across Europe, as the continent will be rooting for a UEFA champion for the first time since Germany in 2007.
2. Africa's Difficult Start
The Nigeria-Norway match in Group A on June 8 featured two sides that have appeared in every Women's World Cup since 1991, with vastly different fortunes. Nigeria advanced beyond the Group Stage only once (in 1999) while Norway were finalists in 1991 and won the title in 1995. Norway, without the presence of Olympique Lyon forward and 2019 France Football Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hedegberg—which Fox TV seems to mention to no end. Speculation remains as to why the well-spoken Hedegberg left the team after Norway's disastrous last place showing at the 2017 EURO Finals in the Netherlands. Could it be that she simply didn't like thc coaching staff—still led by Swede Martin Sjogren—since the Federation has made in-roads for equal pay and status between the men's and women's sides since that tournament, which she also has positioned for? An unnamed NWSL team tried to sign Hedegberg for June and July but she turned down the offer, as she is doing television commentary for French TV during the WWC. Norway looked superb in their 3-0 win on June 8 in Reims. The same day, South Africa fell to Spain 3-1 in Le Havre, but the debutants held a 1-0 lead at the break over Spain, which was a favorite of some to make the semifinals. Spain scored on two second half penalties from Jennifer Hermoso—who played with now-defunct Tyreso in Sweden and PSG in 2017-18 and spent this league season with champions Atletico Madrid—and a goal from youth international star Lucia Garcia (20) from Athletic Bilbao. South Africa finished with 10 players when Nothando Vilakazi (Gintra of Lithuania) received her second yellow card in the 81st minute. South Africa's goal came from Thembi Ktalagna, who played last year for Houston Dash of the NWSL and was under contract for 2019 but left for a more lucrative gig in China with Beijing Phoenix. This reporter talked to then Houston Dash General Manager Brian Ching over the winter and he said that the club wanted to keep her and fellow international Linda Motlhalo (also now with Beijing) but also didn't want to keep players who didn't want to be there, as that can be toxic to the rest of the squad. If Ktalagna has other strong group games, she could be on the move again to a high profile club in Europe.
3. Shocks in Group C—Brazil and Italy win Openers
After the games on June 9, this reporter seems to have badly misread Group C. We felt that Jamaica had a chance to pull at least a point off of struggling Brazil, who had not won a game in 9 consecutive matches, while Jamaica had done well in their friendlies this year. Brazil, even with Marta on the bench struggling with an injury, won 3-1 with forward Cristiane scoring her 8th, 9th and 10th all-time Women's World Cup goals in her fourth tournament, with 41-year-old Formiga influential as well.
One positive item for Jamaica and the entire Caribbean region is that Khadija Shaw, who just finished her career at the University of Tennessee, was signed to a two-year contract by Bordeaux of the French Feminine Division 1 League.
In the other game, Australia had a 1-0 halftime lead over Italy through Sam Kerr scoring off of a rebound of her saved penalty kick, but gave up two second half goals to Barbara Bonansea of Juventus, who could have had her own hat-trick but an early goal in the first half was deemed off-sides.
The Matildas were favoured by many to make the semifinals but after losing a high profile friendly 3-0 to the Netherlands on Eindhoven on June 1, it is hard to not feel that the squad is in crisis mode now, ahead of their now crucial second game on Thursday June 13 against high-flying Brazil in Montpellier. This could be a high-scoring barnburner, in which case the edge would have to go to the Australians.
4. Brazil replaces defender Fabiana before the first game.
Fabiana of Brazil, a 29 year old defender currently with Internacional at home but has played in Spain, Russia, Sweden and China as well as in WPS in 2009 and 2010 with the Boston Breakers, is out of the tournament through injury. She played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. She is replaced by Poliana, who has played in Iceland and for the past three seasons with the Houston Dash and Orlando Pride in the NWSL but is now at home with Sao Jose, based in Sao Jose dos Campos in the state of Sao Paolo.
5. U.S. leads in visitor tickets sold at the Women's World Cup.
According to the Associated Press, among foreign visitors, the U.S. has purchased 130,905 tickets, more than four times the total of the U.K (including participants Scotland and England) at 29,307, followed by the Netherlands at 27,767 and Sweden lagging behind in fourth at 10,227. France leads all nations with 460,748 tickets sold. We would expect the ticket sales to ramp up for a European side if they make the semifinals,
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey