2014 WC Group C

Women’s World Cup Day 3 — Has Africa arrived?

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Heading into Monday’s action, the continent of Africa was 4-25-3 in World Cup play, the last two of those victories (including Nigeria beating Canada in 2011) coming after both teams involved in the match had already been eliminated.

The reasons for the slow growth of African women’s soccer has to do with some of the socioeconomic and cultural reasons I mentioned Sunday. And if it has been difficult for men’s teams from Africa to find their footing on the world stage, you can imagine how hard it is to get funding, respect, common decency, etc., for their women’s teams.

[RESULTS: Japan edges Switzerland  |  Cameroon routs Ecuador]

But, if history has taught us anything, it’s that talent finds a way to shine through barriers. Yes, Nigeria did not advance in 2011, but they only conceded two goals in the tournament, while Equatorial Guinea and Genoveva (Ayo) Anonma went home 0-3, but certainly not outclassed the way African teams had been in the past.

Perhaps you can write down Monday, June 8, 2015, as the date when African women’s soccer finally arrived on the world stage. For the first time in 16 years, the continent got four points in a World Cup, and not only did Cameroon and Nigeria do it within hours of each other, they did it impressively. Admittedly, Ecuador was poor and eventually down to 10 women, but Cameroon was rampant almost from the opening kickoff in a 6-0 rout (no other African victory at the World Cup had ever been by more than two goals).

[KASSOUF: USA gets by Australia  |  Solo saves the day  |  Room to improve]

Meanwhile, Nigeria came from two goals down to draw 3-3 with Sweden, but – despite the reaction of the world as the result being a surprise – likely deserved all three, recording more possession, twice as many shots, and much better chances with a front four of Asisat Oshoala, Ngozi Okobi, Francisca Ordega (of the NWSL’s Spirit), and Desire Oparanozie making Sweden look ordinary. And “ordinary” is being generous.

In 1999, Nigeria beat North Korea and Denmark and came from three goals down against Brazil in the quarterfinals only to have Sissi win it in overtime on a golden goal. Had Nigeria won that game, it would have played the U.S. in the semifinals. So somewhere Mercy Akide (now coaching in Virginia and married to Nigerian sportswriter Colin Udoh) and the other foremothers of the current African generation had big smiles Monday night.

There’s obviously much of the tournament to go, but Cameroon has likely qualified for the second round already with 3 points and its goal differential. Nigeria would have liked 3 points with the U.S. and Australia remaining, but will be far from a pushover for either. And don’t be shocked if the Ivory Coast – who actually looked decent going forward against Germany – finds a way to beat Thailand and join them in the knockout stages.

What else did we learn Monday?

1) Asisat Oshoala might be a household name soon

She doesn’t turn 21 until October, but has already been the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year thanks to her dominance at Liverpool and was voted the best player in Africa last season after winning the Golden Boot at the 2014 U-20 World Cup as Nigeria lost to Germany in extra time in the final. She has pace, strength, size, and skill, and Sweden had no answer for her. Ngozi Okobi may also get some looks from Europe if she continues to torture defenses like she did Monday.

2) However, Nigeria does have a goalkeeping issue

Precious Dede has played for Nigeria in almost every big match they have played since 2003, but shaky doesn’t begin to describe how she looked in the first half against Sweden set pieces (of which they scored on two corners). Edwin Okon does have 23-year-old Ibubeleye Whyte as a back-up and she did post a clean sheet in the African finals last year (against Cameroon). However, she only has six career caps, and it would be asking a lot to put her up against the Abby Wambachs of the world in the air. But Nigeria has to figure that out or all their hard work and young skill won’t help them advance.

3) Meanwhile, Sweden has a defense problem

Pia Sundhage was so scared by Nigeria’s speed that she replaced BOTH center backs (Nilla Fischer and Emma Berglund) while leading in the second half. It didn’t work. Replacement Linda Sembrant (who also scored Sweden’s third goal) stepped way too early, allowing Ordega to tie the game in the 87th minute. Sweden allowed only one goal in 10 games of UEFA qualifying, but that is deceiving because they were in a turrible (as Charles Barkley would say) group, and one certainly devoid of the speed they saw Monday (with apologies to Scotland’s Jane Ross). With the U.S. and Australia coming up, things won’t get easier on that front, so Pia will have to do something, or Sweden could be facing an extremely embarrassing first-round exit if they’re not careful.

4) Gaelle Enganamouit may not be too far behind Asisat Oshoala

The 23-year-old who plays in Sweden looked the part of a world-class striker in picking up her hat trick, even if the competition was dreadful (if I had another bullet point, I could muse about how far South America has fallen behind Africa in women’s soccer because the gap looked pretty significant on Monday, and no team from South America other than Brazil has ever won a match at the World Cup). Japan and Switzerland both looked very good in their opener on Monday and both will pose many more problems for their defense, but it would be surprising to see them get beaten as badly as they beat Ecuador Monday.

5) You can’t qualify for the World Cup from Europe anymore if you’re not good

This may be Switzerland’s first World Cup (and they’ve never even qualified for the Euros), but their roster is loaded with players from the top European leagues (including 11 from the Bundesliga). Rightfully so, Ramona Bachmann will get a lot of the press after Monday’s game (and boy does she wish she has that chance in stoppage time back), it’s great to see her finally healthy and that obviously makes the Swiss a much tougher out in this tournament. But veterans Martina Moser and Vanessa Bernauer (both of whom play in Germany) more than held their own in the middle against the defending world champs. Alas, they got no points for their troubles, but given the weak group they’re in, there is reason to take a lot of positives out of the 1-0 loss.

Women’s World Cup — Day 3 Preview

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For many in the United States, the 2015 Women’s World Cup begins Monday night when the United States women get their tournament started against Australia.  The holders are also in action as Japan begins defending a global championship for the first time.  Here’s a look:

Group D – Sweden vs Nigeria
Monday, 4 p.m. EDT
Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

Sweden struggled with some up-and-down results ahead of this World Cup.  But don’t tell that to Nigeria coach Edwin Okon, who denied any knowledge about the Swedish side ahead of the match.  He was fibbing of course, but the underlying takeaway is that he is not prepared to offer much of a window into how his side will place as underdogs in the group.  Certainly Okon knows of Lotta Schelin, who is one of the great players of her generation and one without a major trophy to her name.  At 31, it could be proverbial last best chance, at least at the World Cup.

[MORE: Complete TV schedule  |  PST’s Women’s World Cup coverage]

The Super Falcons, long the dominant team on Africa and long known for physical play, will be no easy match for anyone else in the group.  Asisat Oshoala, 20, was marvelous at the U-20 World Cup last summer and Francisca Ordega, 21, has turned heads with the Washington Spirit.  They could be two of the keys that help transform Nigeria into a more technical side, and that could be on full display against a Sweden team whose back four is not totally stable at the moment.

Group C – Cameroon vs Ecuador
Monday, 7 pm EDT
BC Place, Vancouver
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

Two more debut sides square off to open Group C play.  Any team passing through BC Place will have it in the backs of their minds that the World Cup trophy will be presented there on July 5.  Neither of these two have any realistic chance to play that match, but they clearly have a realistic chance to open their World Cup histories with some points.  Both teams will be something of a mystery to most fans, though Ecuador was briefly in the spotlight when they played and beat Trinidad and Tobago last fall for the right to be in this tournament.  Unfortunately for both sides they are likely to remain a mystery with much of the game opposite the United States match.

Group D – United States vs Australia
Monday, 7:30 pm EDT
Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

The World Cup finally begins for the United States.  Australia is a team they have handled quite well over the years, but they are also a team with talent that can capitalize if the U.S. stagnates as they have at times this year.  Coach Jill Ellis on Sunday declared Alex Morgan available for selection but would not discuss a lineup.  Morgan has not played since April 11 and trained Sunday with tape on her injured left knee.

[KASSOUF: US women must deal with Australia’s speed  |  And distractions]

NWSL fans will be familiar with many of Australia’s top players.  Sam Kerr and Caitlyn Foord are both young, quick, and dynamic, and Lisa De Vanna, when on, is one of the most unique and difficult to defend players in the world.

Group C – Japan vs Switzerland
Monday, 10 pm EDT
BC Place, Vancouver
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

This will be the month when we begin to see if Japan is more likely to be a sustained world power or whether 2011 and 2012 was their brief window to shine.  Their precise, technical style certainly plays well in these types of tournaments, and they were able to talk Homare Sawa out of retirement to play in what will be her record sixth World Cup.

Regardless of how good they are, Japan figure to have little trouble escaping the group as they are the only team with any World Cup history whatsoever.  Switzerland, however, is expected to be the toughest of their three opponents.  The player to watch for the Swiss is Ramona Bachman, a 24-year-old wizard on the ball who could be one of the players the world learns about over the next few weeks.

Top Ten Players of the 2014 World Cup’s Group Stage

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It’s quite a task selecting the best 10 performances from 32 teams playing three games each, but in the hard world of being employed to rank world footballers, I stand ready.

It’s especially hard not to just latch onto incredible moments and insert a player on the list. Robin van Persie’s headed goal against Spain still amazes me, but was he the driving force behind the Netherlands’ surprising group stage? Certain teams got by on defending, so does that mean one defender can rise above the rest?

[ RELATED: Complete bracket for Round of 16, more ]

Oh, shoot. Let’s just do this thing. The Top Ten players from the 2014 group stage were:

10. Gervinho, Ivory Coast – No, Les Elephants were not able to charge out of their group stage funk, but that was no fault of the electric Gervinho, who challenged back lines and midfields alike.

9. Arjen Robben, Netherlands – He’s a menace, and his motor never stops going (even during his full-energy dives). Robben drove the Dutch into the knockout rounds.

8. Enner Valencia, Ecuador – The bright spot in a disappointing tournament for La Tri, the ‘other’ Valencia has been linked with a number of Premier League sides including Newcastle United.

7. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico – You watched the Brazil/Mexico match, right? Can you believe El Tri had coaches who didn’t suit this guy up?

source: AP6. James Rodriguez, Colombia – Absurdly-gifted and just as productive, James is one of the main reasons Colombia could emerge from the loaded CONMEBOL quadrant and into the semifinals.

5. Karim Benzema, France – If this guy played in England, he would be one of the most popular players for American audiences. He’s big, talented and hard-charging.

4. David Luiz, Brazil – So PSG is going to team Luiz up with Thiago Silva? Champions League, beware.

3. Neymar, Brazil – If there’s been more stress placed on a younger player by a host nation, we’ve yet to find him. Coming into his own during this tournament.

2. Thomas Muller, Germany – All he does is score goals, and that bullet against the United States was bordering on impossibly well-placed.

1. Lionel Messi, Argentina – Any more questions about the Atomic Ant on the international stage? He was Argentina in the group stage.

Honorable mention: Wayne Rooney, England; Yeltsin Tejeda and Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica; Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard, United States; Daley Blind, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay, Netherlands; Blaise Matuidi, France; Xherdan Shaqiri and Diego Benaglio, Switzerland; Andre Ayew, Ghana; Juan Cuadrado, Colombia; Merhdad Pooladi, Iran; Serey Die, Ivory Coast; David Ospina and Jackson Martinez, Colombia; Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard, Belgium; Ivan Perisic, Croatia; Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez, Chile; Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria; Oribe Peralta, Mexico; Diego Godin and Luis Suarez, Uruguay; Islam Slimani, Algeria; Keisuke Honda, Japan; Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels, Germany.

World Cup today: Italy, Uruguay in elimination match, three-way battle in Group C

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It was a stellar Monday at the World Cup as both Groups A and B came to a conclusion.

Hosts Brazil topped Group A by thrashing Cameroon, while the Netherlands scored twice late on to beat Chile and finish atop Group B with a 100 percent record.

Mexico also got in on the act as they beat Croatia to advance to the last 16 for the sixth-straight World Cup. El Tri will now face the Netherlands, while Brazil play Chile in two mouth-watering knockout matches.

[ MORE: How will U.S. lineup vs. Germany ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

Two more group finales are in store on Tuesday, as Italy and Uruguay battle it out for the final Round of 16 spot in Group D, while everything is up for grabs in Group C. Let’s take a look at what’s in store today:

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MATCH 39: Italy vs. Uruguay
Location: Estadio das Dunas, Natal
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide
With a win, both teams can advance to the knockout rounds. Their entire World Cup campaigns come down to this match. For Uruguay, it is win in or bust. Simple. As for Italy, a draw would see them through to the last 16 due to their superior goal difference but they have to stop red-hot Luis Suarez.

What they’re saying
Luis Suarez on Uruguay’s respect for Italy: “From last year’s Confederations Cup I know how organised they are. If you leave them just an inch they will make you pay. But they have weaknesses as well as strengths, and we will try to exploit those weaknesses. We expect Italy to be tough opponents, but we know what’s at stake and we are going out there to qualify.”

History
The two nations have played each other nine times, with Uruguay edging out Italy with three wins to two.

Premier League Players
Uruguay: Luis Suárez, Sebastian Coates (both Liverpool), Gastón Ramírez (Southampton)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 40: Costa Rica vs. England
Location: Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
England are out of the World Cup and have made nine changes to the team which lost to Uruguay. The Three Lions will be hoping to not bow out with a whimper. As for Costa Rica, they know a win will likely see them top the group.

source: AP
England’s manager Roy Hodgson makes nine changes to his side.

What they’re saying
Roy Hodgson on giving the youngsters a chance vs. Costa Rica: “With a very different team and a lot of players who haven’t played in the tournament so far, I wanted everyone to go home from this tournament — or at least as many as possible — having taken part and played in a game, not just training. We’re very conscious of the fact that our fans are as disappointed and devastated as we are, but they are still here supporting us.

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League players
22 of England’s 23-man squad play in the Premier League.
Costa Rica: Joel Campbell (Arsenal)

MLS players
Costa Rica: Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls), Waylon Francis, Giancarlo Gonzalez (both Columbus Crew)

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MATCH 41: Japan vs. Colombia
Location: Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide
Japan need to win to make it through to the last 16 of the World Cup, while Colombia will rest several key players ahead of the knockout stages. The Samurai Blue will be going for broke in this one.

What they’re saying
Japan star Keisuke Honda believes in miracles: “Of course there is still a possibility of advancing to the next round. We can’t qualify now without relying on external forces, but I believe in miracles and I am focused on us beating Colombia.”

History
These sides have met twice before, with Colombia winning 1-0 in the 2003 Confederations Cup and the two teams drawing 0-0 in a friendly back in ’07.

Premier League Players

Japan: Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) Maya Yoshida (Southampton)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source: Getty Images
Can the Ivory Coast seal their first every berth in the knockout stages?

MATCH 42: Greece vs. Ivory Coast
Location: Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Both teams are in with a shout of making the last 16, with Ivory Coast in the driving seat. They know a win will secure a spot in the knockout stages for the first time in history and they come up against a Greek team that has yet to score in the World Cup… but somehow has a chance of making it through.

What they’re saying
Greece’s manager Fernando Santos on their offensive struggles: “We have to score goals. I don’t care who does it. If it is (goalkeeper Orestis) Karnezis, that’ll be fine with me. We have to show the qualities that got us here. The Ivory Coast is a strong team with good players. But we are strong too and we got here on merit … talk of anything else is just a distraction.”

History

The two nations have never met.

Premier League players

Greece: None.
Ivory Coast: Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle), Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Yaya Touré (Manchester City)

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Need for incentive? Ivory Coast win bonus doubled by president

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With national and professional pride on the line in the world’s biggest tournament, the Ivory Coast government is promising its team extra money if it wins its next game.

Seems a bit unnecessary, no?

But that’s the case for Les Elephants, who would advance with a win against Greece in its final Group C game on Tuesday, as Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara has approved a doubled win bonus for the players.

From beIN Sports:

On a visit to the squad’s training base in Brazil, Guillaume Soro, head of the Ivorian parliament, informed the players that Mr Ouattara is keen to reward them should they beat the Greeks.

“The president has requested me to tell you that the Ivorian people are proud of you, that he is proud of you,” he said.

“Despite the defeat, you have been brave against Colombia. He has also requested me to announce that the win bonuses against Greece have been doubled.

“I have been watching your game against Colombia in Brasilia. You have lost, but everyone who watched it agreed to say that you are capable of achieving a good result in your next match to qualify for the round of 16. I am convinced about it.”

Jokes aside, there’s something to be said for hearing from your president — second-hand, where’s the phone call? — that everyone believes in you and there’s more money on the line. Still, doubt that when Cheick Tiote goes to break an opponent in half with a tackle, his thought will be, “MORE MONEY!!”