Top of the winners for the second time running, but for entirely different reasons.
Where Scotland was a deeply impressive cakewalk, England’s 2-0 win over Spain was universally euphemistically described as “gritty” and “grinding out a win”. In other words, they were utterly bossed in every section of the pitch except the final third.
It seems bizarre that a team can have just 26% of the possession, completing 509 fewer passes than their opposition, and still deserve to win, but all of that is true for England.
Spain were the very definition of sterile domination, creating no noteworthy opportunities after Vicky Losada wasted the first-minute opportunity afforded by Steph Houghton’s untimely slip.
That England then went up the other end and scored through Fran Kirby less than a minute later was the game writ large. For the second game in a row, England were ruthless: two chances, two shots on target, two goals.
Oh, and there was that penalty let-off. More on that later…
Another impressive performance by the stand-in centre-back, capped with the most exquisite looping header from a position she had no right to score from. Sadly, the officials took that literally, ruling it out for a very marginal offside.
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) July 23, 2017
Even without the disallowed goal, Mark Sampson faces something of a selection headache for the Portugal game and beyond: does he bring first choice Casey Stoney back into the side alongside skipper Steph Houghton, with the net effect of adding over 100 caps to the side? Or does he stick with 23-year-old Bright, who came through a difficult with an enormous amount of credit? It’s a tough call.
Losers last week, Germany snuck a 2-1 win past the Italy, who are both the unluckiest team at the tournament and the first side confirmed to be heading home at the group stage.
After a goalless draw with Sweden in which they looked devoid of ideas, the holders had to get the win here to avoid joining Norway in a humiliating early exit. It’d be pretty harsh to put them down for doing exactly that.
The Netherlands and Sari Van Veenendaal
Holland v Denmark really was one of those games where you could have pulled any result from 0-0 to 3-3 out of a hat and said “yeah, fair enough.”
The hosts have two things to thank for the encounter ending 1-0 in their favour: an incredibly soft penalty decision, and Arsenal goalkeeper Van Veenendaal, whose gutsy sweeper-keeper adventures denied the rampant Danes a number of chances when all looked lost.
— WomensSoccerUnited (@WSUasa) July 20, 2017
Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, and the neutral fan
All four won sides very tricky games to record their first win of the competition and keep both knockout qualification berths mathematically open.
Because head-to-head results are the main deciding factor, England would need to lose to Portugal by three clear goals not to go through now, but they are the only side practically nailed on for the quarter-finals.
With all four groups so finely poised, every night this week promises drama, intrigue, and excitement. Most promisingly, we might finally get to see Germany and France up their game. Speaking of which…
My pre-tournament favourites relied on a late penalty to get the three points in their opening games against Iceland, and this time out laboured to a 1-1 draw with Austria, the competition’s third-weakest team according to the FIFA Rankings. Could it be that having two sides go all the way in the Champions League has left France with an utterly knackered squad?
As with Germany v Russia, France’s final group game on Wednesday night is now effectively a straight shoot-out with Switzerland for a quarter-final place. Unlike Germany, they finish with their sternest test yet – and even if they pass, their likely reward is a clash with England in the next round.
Unbelievably still have a shred of hope of qualification despite losing their first two games with some frankly appalling performances, but they need a big, big performance to do it.
Pro tip: making the slightest effort to defend long throws might be useful.
— DailyWoSo (@DailyWoSo) July 20, 2017
First of all, all credit to Italian referee Carina Vitulano. You can totally see why she awarded the penalty in the first place, but she had the strength to admit her error and put it right, even at risk of looking a bit foolish.
— Ann Odong ⚽️? (@AnnOdong) July 23, 2017
After many, many looks at the incident, we all – players, managers, fans, broadcasters, and journalists – slowly pieced together what had happened: the referee prematurely blew for the penalty without checking with her assistants, was corrected, and then had no choice but to resume play with a dropball.
But why did we have to guess what Vitulano had given through the elaborate medium of mime? Why can’t we just have the officials’ microphones audible over the broadcast feed? Every other sport does this; why does football perversely insist on leaving commentators, fans, and pundits guessing what the referee has given?
If FIFA are going to stick with VAR despite the clustermess that was the Confederations Cup trial, they have to sort this out. It’s bad enough that none of us at home can tell what decision has been given or why (there’s no VAR at this tournament), but it’s made ten times worse when we don’t even know for sure whether the referee is having her or his decision checked in the video truck. Get those mics live, please.