2015 WC Group C

Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 11

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Comparing men’s and women’s soccer is obviously an apples and oranges thing, but one of the biggest reasons I’m writing this is a guy named Roger Milla.

If you’re too young to remember a time when soccer games were nearly impossible to find on television, like ever, then congratulations. Because in 1990, at least in the United States, there was nothing. MLS was still six years away and piping in matches from Europe was the realm of satellite dishes that took up a good part of the roof at sports bars and still brought in fuzzy pictures when they worked.

The exception, kind of, was the World Cup, at least in 1990 when cable television picked up most of the matches because the United States had qualified for the first time in four decades. In the opening match, African underdog Cameroon upset Argentina 1-0 (they hacked Diego Maradona throughout and finished on nine men, but whatever), and the next day in school, my soccer friends couldn’t stop talking about Cameroon.

They ended up winning their group and beat Colombia by scoring twice in extra time. Both goals were scored by 38-year-old Roger Milla (the second a hilarious goalkeeping error by another legend, Rene Higuita). Obviously his goal-scoring made him special, but what really created his iconic status was his celebrations, dancing with the corner flag. He played with such joy, it was impossible not to root for him, especially as the massive underdog he was.

[MORE: Wambach goal lifts United States to win match, Group D]

I still wonder what might have happened had Cameroon been called for not one, but two penalties (including one in extra time) in the quarterfinal, leading to a 4-3 loss to Gary Lineker and England. Other than Senegal in 2002, African men’s soccer has not been to such heights in the quarter-century since. To this day, I still own a Cameroon jersey or two and try to root for the African teams at the World Cup.

On Tuesday, I saw a little bit of Roger Milla in Gabrielle Onguene, even if she was just a 1-year-old in 1990. Gaelle Enganamouit wasn’t even born yet and veteran Madeleine Ngono-Mani (Cameroon’s all-time leading scorer), who scored the game-winner against Switzerland, was just six.

But that joy of playing, ability to make opponents look silly, and not really giving much of a hoot about history looked awfully familiar. Like the 1990 men’s team, Cameroon’s place in the second round is far from a fluke. They crushed Ecuador, out-shot world champion Japan 20-4 before falling 2-1, and were completely dominant Tuesday in the second half against a Switzerland team that almost everyone had tipped for the quarterfinals and a date with the United States.

That place may now belong to Cameroon. Of course, getting by a disciplined China defense Saturday won’t be easy and the Indomitable Lionesses would be a massive underdog against the United States, if it came to it in the quarterfinal.

Regardless of how they do the rest of the way, Cameroon has not only set the stage for a bright future, but they have given us entertainment that we just don’t see often anymore, in the men’s or women’s game at this level.

Somewhere Roger Milla must have been watching. And showing off his iconic grin.

– Ray Curren

What else did we learn from Groups C and D Tuesday?

Is Sweden the sleeping giant? Sweden has not had a strong World Cup, and it could end after Wednesday’s matches.  If it doesn’t, they will play Germany in the Round of 16 in a match that will see the loser almost certainly miss the Olympics.  The question is, if Sweden get a second life, will they be more dangerous than ever? They are still undefeated, easily could have beaten the United States, and also could have let go when Australia took an early lead on Tuesday.  But they didn’t.  If they survive, look for them to give Germany everything they can handle.

– Dan Lauletta

Here there Ecuador:  Japan never really pushed the gas pedal at all, but still, Ecuador has to be proud of its performance, particularly goalkeeper Shirley Berruz, who had a few good stops to keep the score 1-0. Ecuador avoided the worst goal differential in World Cup history, which looked like a shoe-in before kickoff Tuesday. Ecuador surely has seen what Colombia has done and knows they aren’t necessarily that far behind them in South America, so with four years more experience and hopefully a little help from their federation, they’ll look to return in France.

– Curren

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Nigeria turning a cornerOn paper this World Cup will look much like Nigeria’s others.  Two losses and a draw leaves the Super Falcons 3-14-2 in World Cup play with a single trip out of the group stage (1999, when they earned two of their three wins).  Their Olympic record is 1-8-0.  But a deeper look says this go-round was different.  Talented young players like Asisat Oshoala and Francisca Ordega made Nigeria dangerous at every turn, and to some extent they eschewed the physical tactics and tried to actually outplay their opponents.  Tuesday began on the back foot, but just when it looked like they would implode, the Nigerians got hold of the match and made the United States work until the final whistle, even carrying possession at times after they were reduced to 10.  The two takeaways for me from their World Cup are that they are not far from being actual contenders, and that with some more like last December at the draw they could have easily been quarter-finalists.

– Lauletta

Is Japan in trouble? The defending champs will enter the knockout stage with a perfect 9 points and, on paper at least, in much better shape than it was at this time four years ago in Germany. But they’ve only scored four goals – one against hapless Ecuador – and were outplayed for long stretches in both the Switzerland and Cameroon matches. The Japanese media has made an issue out of the fact that Japan is the second-oldest team in Canada (wonder who the oldest is?). With Kozue Ando out for the tournament, will they be able to win every game 1-0? They might get the Netherlands in the second round, and if they get past that, Brazil. Can they survive both of those? Of course, we didn’t think so four years ago, either, did we?

– Curren

Is it Australia time? Australia should be plenty pleased at finishing second in what many thought was the most difficult group at the World Cup.  They should be further pleased by outplaying the United States for an hour, dominating Nigeria, and playing a controlled match against a Sweden team that needed it more.  Next is a dicey match against Brazil, who will be waiting for them in Moncton, but Alen Stajcic’s side has to feel at this point that it can play with anyone in the world.

– Lauletta

Switzerland can sleep soundly:  Historically, three points and a plus-7 goal differential should be plenty for Switzerland to advance and while they walked off the pitch Tuesday in limbo, by the time Sweden were held, the Swiss were locked in. But at halftime Tuesday, they were looking at playing China with a real good shot at making the quarterfinals and a possible Olympic berth next summer. Now it looks like possibly host Canada.  They have shown the ability to play with the best in the world for short periods, but their confidence will not be high, and the massive crowd against them may be too much to overcome.

– Curren

WATCH LIVE: Women’s World Cup – Day 11

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The United States faces Nigeria on Tuesday evening in front of what is expected to be a packed house at BC Place.  A win will assure the top position in Group D.

[ RELATED: All the latest WWC news ]

That will rightly be where the focus of most American soccer fans will be for the day, but the final day of play in Group C as well as D features two very intriguing matches, both of which are likely to decide second place.

Group C – Ecuador (0-2-0) vs Japan (2-0-0)
Tuesday, 5 p.m. EDT
Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

Japan are already through and need only a draw to win the group.  That should not be a problem as Ecuador have been outscored 16-1 by two teams Japan already beat.  It would not be a surprise to see Japan struggle for motivation as it appeared Germany and Norway did on Monday but the final result figures to be routine.  And when it’s over Ecuador will be going home.

Group C – Switzerland (1-1-0) vs Cameroon (1-1-0)
Tuesday, 5 p.m. EDT
Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

A pair of impressive debut sides will square off with either team guaranteed to go through if they win, and both guaranteed to go through if they draw.  Will the second point make it a dull affair or will both press for the three points?  No fewer than three players from these teams have hat tricks in the tournament.  Gaelle Enganamouit for Cameroon plus Fabienne Humm and Ramona Bachmann for Switzerland have all done it, all against Ecuador.  Despite both obliterating Ecuador, both sides can probably hang their hats more on keeping Japan close.  The winner—Switzerland gets through second with a draw—gets China in the Round of 16.  Both have to view that as a winnable match.

Group D – Nigeria (0-1-1) vs United States (1-0-1)
Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT
BC Place, Vancouver, British Columbia
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

The United States has not been great yet but here they are with a chance to win the group and secure a soft path to the semifinals.  They did not score against Sweden but in Nigeria they will find a defensively disorganized team that will be playing desperate to win.  The scoreless draw prompted Abby Wambach to suggest the team would be scoring more of the games were on grass which in turn led to the notion the team is looking for excuses.

Nigeria is not short on technical skill as they showed against Sweden but are also apt to get frustrated as they showed against Australia.  Ugo Njoku, a second half sub against Australia, will not be available as her three-game ban for elbowing Sam Kerr begins.

Group D – Australia (1-1-0) vs Sweden (0-0-2)
Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT
Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

A peach of a match that should be what this tournament should hope to replicate in a majority of its groups going forward.  If either team wins it means advancement while a loss will eliminate Sweden and a draw will put Australia through unless Nigeria beats the United States by exactly two goals, and even then the Matildas could advance.

Even though Australia lost to the United States, an argument can be made that they have looked best in this group, at least for 150 of the 180 minutes they have played.  Defensively they did a fine job neutralizing Nigeria’s speed.  Sweden has less pace than Nigeria so they will need a strong day in midfield.  And the much heralded Lotta Schelin has yet to be a factor for Sweden.

Other advancement scenarios:

— If Cameroon and Switzerland do not draw, that would mean at least two groups will have their third-place team finish on three points.  That will put all of the teams on four points through – Netherlands, United States, and Colombia.

— If Cameroon and Switzerland do draw, and Nigeria does not beat the United States at exactly two goals then the Netherlands are through.

— If Sweden win or draw, Thailand are eliminated barring the unlikely scenario that Cameroon, Switzerland, Australia, England, or France lose by enough goals to fall behind Thailand’s minus-7.

Advancement scenarios for every group, team at 2015 Women’s World Cup

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Two matches down and one to go in group play at the 2015 Women’s World Cup and there is still so much we don’t know about how the knockout brackets will look.  The only two teams certainly moving on are Japan and Brazil, with the latter the only team to have won its group.  No one is officially eliminated but it will take a miracle for Nigeria and something far greater than that for Ecuador or Ivory Coast.  But most everything else is at least partially up in the air.  Let’s look at how things are shaping up.  And don’t forget, four of the six 3rd-place finishers will move on.

For this tournament no one is getting through on 2 points.  Colombia took care of that with their upset of France on Saturday.  That means Sweden’s chances of slipping by with a loss to Australia went from slim to impossible.  They will need a result.  Thailand did not like that Colombia result either.  As it stands now, they are through, but unless they get a point off Germany (it would dwarf Colombia’s upset if they do) they will need Sweden and Nigeria to lose in Group D and Costa Rica to lose or Spain/Korea Republic to end in a draw in Group E.  That is a lot to ask.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Women’s World Cup coverage ]

Teams that are on 4 points right now—Canada, Germany, Norway, United States, and Colombia—are not guaranteed to go through, but the scenarios to knock them out are so outlandish they need not be discussed unless they happen.  But suffice it to say that while all six groups still stand a chance of having three teams reach four points, unless Thailand holds Germany and Nigeria beats the United States, those five teams are moving on.  That means 14 teams are battling for nine spots in the knockout rounds.

Let’s look at each group:

Group A:  Canada win the group with a win and that might be more important than originally thought since finishing second will yield a match against Cameroon or Switzerland instead of a 3rd-place finisher.  Netherlands and China are all but through with draws and definitely with wins, while New Zealand are all but through with a win but definitely eliminated with a loss or draw.

Group B:  If we assume Germany will beat Thailand and Norway will do the same to Ivory Coast, then the two winners are through with Germany winning the group so long as they don’t allow Norway to overcome a six-goal margin on goal difference.  Ivory Coast probably needs to beat Norway by a dozen goals (had to say it) while Thailand needs a point or for the scenarios listed above to play out.

Group C:  If Ecuador somehow defeat Japan, the winner of Cameroon-Switzerland will steal the group, but realistically that latter match is for second with Switzerland getting the advantage if they draw.  Lopsided wins over Ecuador put both of those teams in good tiebreaker standing, meaning a draw will send them both through and a narrow loss will be enough so long as four groups don’t wind up with three teams on 4 points.

[ KASSOUF: Wambach says she, US would score more on grass instead of turf ]

Group D:  The United States wins the group by beating Nigeria, for whom a draw is no good.  Australia-Sweden is a juicy finale where the winner moves on.  Sweden are definitely done with a loss and stand a chance with a draw.  Australia are likely through with a draw, definitely if Nigeria does not win.

Group E:  Brazil have won the group, which could play into the favor of Costa Rica, who could get a break if the Brazilians rest players as expected.  A win sends Costa Rica through.  A win for either team in the Spain/Korea Republic match will be enough to get through.  A draw eliminates Korea Republic and can get Spain through if Costa Rica lose by two or more goals.  If Costa Rica gets a draw with Brazil they are through if the other game ends in a draw, and will stand a better chance if Sweden lose or draw with fewer goals than Costa Rica.

Group F:  Amazingly Colombia and England will play with the former in control of the group and England positioned to win the group by beating Colombia and not dropping goal differential to France.  Mexico are done but have to beat France or they are eliminated.  The up-to-date brackets show France playing the United States in the Round of 16 but if they beat Mexico they are guaranteed a top-two spot in the group.  Colombia are very likely to have clinched a knockout berth by the time they take the field.

Reminder of which combinations of which third-place teams would play in which Round of 16 games (chart via the very knowledgeable Jen Cooper at Keeper Notes):

Advancing 3rd place teams 1A plays 1B plays 1C plays 1D plays
A B C D 3C 3D 3A 3B
A B C E 3C 3A 3B 3E
A B C F 3C 3A 3B 3F
A B D E 3D 3A 3B 3E
A B D F 3D 3A 3B 3F
A B E F 3E 3A 3B 3F
A C D E 3C 3D 3A 3E
A C D F 3C 3D 3A 3F
A C E F 3C 3A 3F 3E
A D E F 3D 3A 3F 3E
B C D E 3C 3D 3B 3E
B C D F 3C 3D 3B 3F
B C E F 3E 3C 3B 3F
B D E F 3E 3D 3B 3F
C D E F 3C 3D 3F 3E

 

WATCH LIVE: Women’s World Cup – Day 7

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It seems like an awful lot has already happened at this World Cup, but Friday marks just the end of the first week.  Four teams entered Thursday with a chance to advance and none of them did (three of them are extremely likely but not official).  Three more teams—the United States, Japan and Cameroon—can advance with wins on Friday though, Japan play Cameroon so only one of the two can get it done.

Group D – Australia (0-1-0) vs Nigeria (0-0-1)
Friday, 5 pm EDT
Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

A fascinating match between two sides that were extremely impressive at times in their opening matches but wound up with a draw and a loss.  Both teams can attack, and both have some things to prove defensively.  Nigeria in particular, struggled on defensive set pieces and were generally disorganized in front of maligned keeper Precious Dede.

[KASSOUF: Australia, Nigeria oozing confidence despite results]

Most observers thought Nigeria were better than Sweden during Monday’s 3-3 draw and there was little dispute that Australia carried the first hour against the United States.  The dynamics of the group after one round are such that even a draw could be okay for both if the United States beats Sweden.

Group C – Switzerland (0-1-0) vs Ecuador (0-1-0)
Friday, 7 pm EDT
BC Place, Vancouver
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

Both sides played their first-ever World Cup match earlier this week, and both suffered shutout losses.  Thus ends the similarities.  Switzerland outplayed Japan for long stretches and lost 1-0 on a penalty that at best was not universally supported as the correct call.  Ecuador played Cameroon, conceded three penalties, three other goals, and basically got run off the pitch.

[ MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup ]

Switzerland’s Ramona Bachmann was not able to get Switzerland on the scoreboard but she did show off her skills with several dynamic moments, including one breathtaking weave through several Japanese defenders that ended only when a last-ditch defensive effort caused her to take a heavy touch and lose her balance.  She figures to have more space against Ecuador who are an early candidate to be viewed as the weakest team at this World Cup.

Group D – United States (1-0-0) vs Sweden (0-0-1)
Friday, 8 pm EDT
Winnipeg Stadium, Winnipeg
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

This one was among the handful of group matches most people circled after the draw six months ago, and the relative stakes went up earlier this week after Sweden coach Pia Sundhage spoke out about some of her former United States players in the New York Times.  But Sundhage has more to worry about than her coaching past.  Her Swedish side had few answers for Nigeria’s attack and fewer ideas about how to see out a match while leading by multiple goals in the second half.

[KASSOUF: Sundhage doubles down on USWNT insight — not trash-talk]

The United States’ was not exactly in peak form against Australia, but they walked away 3-1 winners and so they have control of the group and will officially advance with another win in this one.  It will be interesting to see how Jill Ellis strategizes the flanks.  The U.S.’ best against Australia came during the rare times they utilized width and Nigeria pulverized Sweden on the flanks the same day.

Group C – Japan (1-0-0) vs Cameroon (1-0-0)
Friday, 10 pm EDT
BC Place, Vancouver
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

The world champions were among the powers to win while underwhelming, while Cameroon made a smashing debut, hammering Ecuador 6-0.  The star of that show was Gaelle Enganamouit who became the first African woman to record a World Cup hat trick.  Unfortunately most of that match happened opposite the U.S. playing so not many in the states saw Cameroon.  But it does make for some intrigue as we will get to see how they measure up against a quality side.

Japan are without Kozue Ando, whose tournament ended on an ankle injury suffered against Switzerland.  If either team wins, it secures passage to the knockout rounds.  A draw all but assures it for both.

2015 Women’s World Cup: Group C preview

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Defending world champions Japan are heavily favored in Group C, which features three debutantes. Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador all head to Canada with exactly zero combined previous senior Women’s World Cup matches played.

Japan should cruise through the group.

Likewise, Switzerland is favored to come out second as one of Europe’s up-and-coming teams, but Cameroon and Ecuador present the danger of largely being unknowns to those outside of their respective regions.

[ NEWS: Latest on Women’s World Cup

Group C Schedule
June 8: Cameroon vs Ecuador (Vancouver, 7 pm EDT)
June 8: Japan vs Switzerland (Vancouver 10 pm EDT)
June 12: Switzerland vs Ecuador (Vancouver, 7 pm EDT)
June 12: Japan vs Cameroon (Vancouver 10 pm EDT)
June 16: Ecuador vs Japan (Winnipeg, 5 pm EDT)
June 16: Switzerland vs Cameroon (Edmonton, 5 pm EDT)

Japan

Coach: Norio Sasaki
World Ranking: No. 4
Previous World Cups: 1991 (group stage), 1995 (quarterfinals), 1999 (group stage), 2003 (group stage), 2007 (group stage), 2011 (champions)

The defending world champions enter the 2015 edition as one of a handful of teams with a legitimate chance of winning the tournament. Four years ago that notion was unthinkable for the perennial underachievers, but they overcame tragedy in their country to beat Germany and the United States in one of the best sports stories in recent memory. Four years later, the ever-witty Norio Sasaki has a more experienced team that is led by Aya Miyama but still features 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year Homare Sawa, playing in her record sixth World Cup (Brazil’s Formiga will also play in her 6th World Cup). The draw sets up pretty nicely for a Japan to make a run to the final if all expected results hold.

[PURCHASE: 2015 Women’s World Cup Preview Guide]

Switzerland

Coach: Martina Voss-Tecklenburg
World Ranking: No. 19
Previous World Cups: None

Switzerland steamrolled through qualifying with an unbeaten record thanks to a four-headed scoring monster. Lara Dickenmann led the charge with 11 goals, while Ana-Maria Crnogorčević added nine goals and Romna Bachmann and Fabienne Humm chipped in eight goals apiece. Despite beating Sweden in an April friendly, the Swiss are still a ways away from competing with the world’s best teams. Presuming they emerge second out of Group C, they should have a decent shot in the Round of 16 against the second-place finishers from Group A.

Cameroon

Coach: Ngachu Enow
World Ranking: No. 53
Previous World Cups: None

Unlike Switzerland and Ecuador, Cameroon has experience on the big stage after a surprising qualification for the 2012 Olympics. There, Cameroon finished last of the 12 teams, but gained experience that coach Ngachu Enow is hoping will pay dividends in Canada. Madeleine Ngono Mani is the team’s top scorer and the name to know. If Cameroon can get three points against Ecuador and hold its own against Japan and Switzerland, there’s a chance at a third-place slot.

Ecuador

Coach: Vanessa Arauz
World Ranking: No. 48
Previous World Cups: None

Ecuador was the last of 24 teams to qualify for the 2015 World Cup, beating Trinidad and Tobago in a two-leg playoff and scoring in the final minutes of the second leg. Inexperience won’t just come by way of the players, but also through 26-year-old coach Vanessa Arauz, the youngest coach ever at the Women’s World Cup. Ecuador is a direct beneficiary of the expanded World Cup field. Monica Quinteros – who is as old as her coach – scored the goal that clinched Ecuador’s berth to the World Cup. The forward is a player to watch for a young Ecuador team that isn’t expected to do much.