Women’s World Cup: Sweden trails South Africa; Holland started

Women's World Cup: Sweden trails South Africa;  Holland started
Sweden had a good run from South Africa, but eventually pulled off the win.credit…John Coupland / Associated Press

The first four days of the World Cup produced a string of curiously narrow score lines for some of the tournament favourites. Canada’s negative tie. A 1-0 win for England, European champions, over World Cup newcomer Haiti. The United States beat Vietnam 3-0.

Sunday brought the prospect of the tournament’s first real shock. And then just like that, he’s gone.

The scare came from South Africa and striker Hilda Magaya, who rebounded past Sweden three minutes into the second half to give her team a stunning 1-0 lead against Sweden, who are third in the world. The South African players couldn’t believe their luck and quickly celebrated with a dance. Their coaching staff trained off the bench and then dissolved into a series of bear hugs.

But then Sweden came back. Fridolina Rulfo equalized with a goal at the back post in the 65th minute, and defender Amanda Ellstedt got the winning goal with a header from a corner kick in the 90th minute.

Much has been made ahead of the World Cup regarding the potential gap between the eight first-timers and the traditional powers. The first week showed that the talent gap may not be as great as some might think.

Netherlands players wear black and blue puffy jackets.
Players from the Netherlands the day before their match against Portugal.credit…Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press

The Netherlands, Sweden and France are scheduled to be watched on Sunday, the fourth day of the Women’s World Cup. Sweden, ranked third in the world and a semi-finalist at the European Championships last year, are regular competitors at major tournaments and secured a win over South Africa on Sunday. The Dutch finished second in the 2019 World Cup, and they still have many of their key players from that tournament on their roster. The Frenchman has a new coach but the faces are familiar in the later stages of international competitions.

The Netherlands has been a powerhouse in international football for several years. She won the 2017 European Championships, reached the World Cup final in 2019 and took the United States to a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Its first opponent in this World Cup is Portugal, which needed 13 qualifying matches to clinch its place in the field of 32 teams, More than any competing team. Portugal is one of the eight teams to appear in the Women’s World Cup for the first time.

This gap in experience is in favor of the Netherlands, but of course the placement of the Group E match – with the United States – puts more pressure on both teams to get an early win if they want to reach the knockout stages.

The Dutch, who lost to the Americans in the World Cup final four years ago. The United States will face off again Thursday in Wellington, New Zealand (Wednesday evening ET). The game is one of the most anticipated matches in the group stage, and the winner will face a much easier path to the knockout rounds. But first things first, and this is Portugal.

Despite their international success over the past few years, France has been in turmoil behind the scenes. In March, the French Federation sacked its long-time coach, Corinne Diacre, after players complained about Unhealthy environment in the team.

Hervé Renard, a well-travelled coach who had never led a women’s team before, has steadied the ship. But if his pedigree coaching women is poor, his World Cup history is long: most recently, he coached Saudi Arabia in the men’s World Cup in December, a series that included famous wins over Lionel Messi and Argentina.

France lost a disappointing semi-final to Germany at Euro 2022 and failed to qualify for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. After what they’ve been through, winning the first game in Australia could help stabilize the team – and set them on a path to a deep run.

Standing in the way is Jamaica, the team playing in its second World Cup. Jamaica had to use Crowdfunding sites To raise money for the team’s trip to Australia and New Zealand. The Jamaicans lost all three of their group stage matches in 2019.

Sophia Smith, right, with Crystal Dunn.
credit…Andrew Kornja/Associated Press

For a small subset of devout soccer fans, Sophia Smith’s goal celebration during the United States’ 3-0 victory over Vietnam seemed familiar.

After her second goal in the USA team’s 3-0 victory over Vietnam, Smith ran her fingers over her lips to pinch them and then threw an imaginary wrench. This was the same goal celebration used by her good friend and former Stanford teammate Katie Meyer during a penalty shootout in the 2019 NCAA Championship game. Gesture Meyer, the Stanford goalie and team captain, It soon spread rapidly.

When Stanford won the shootout that day, Smith ran to Meyer and jumped on her, causing both of them to fall to the ground.

Just over two years later, in March 2022, Meyer was found dead in her dorm room just months before her graduation. She killed herself.

“It was for Katie,” Smith said after the Vietnam game, explaining that she and Aumi Girma, a former Stanford USA player, had planned a goal celebration in the days leading up to the World Cup. They both dedicated this tournament to Mayer.

In Meyer’s memory, Smith and Girma also launched a mental health care initiative with the nonprofit Common Purpose that included filming a public service announcement with several of their US colleagues. “We just want to honor her in every way,” said Smith.

Smith said that Meyer’s death “changed everything” about her life. She said it helped her value her friendships more, and put other issues into perspective.

“Now I don’t take it seriously,” said Smith, who left Stanford two years ago to play professionally. “I realized that there are so many important things going on and that the little things that stress me affect me.”

Herve Renard, in a blue football shirt
France’s new manager, Hervé Renard.credit…Isabella Moore for The New York Times

France arrived in Australia as the World Cup favorites on the mend. It has been wracked by bitter disputes in recent months players lostAnd He welcomed them backand then Lost them again. I changed coaches, changed approaches and changed tactics. And now she’s asked Hervé Renard, a respectable 54-year-old with an embellished resume at the men’s World Cup but no previous experience coaching the women, to at least hold her through to the semifinals.

He said he started the process by being upfront about what he didn’t know.

“For me it was all new because I didn’t know women’s football, how to manage girls,” he said. “I was lucky because a lot of people already work with women’s football on our team. So I’ve been listening.”

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