Through 24 group stage games in the 2015 Women’s World Cup there has been 74 goals scored. The four teams Group A have mustered only three goals in their first four games, making this evening’s two matches even more important.
One can argue that it has been tough and stingy defense that is preventing goals or the teams in the group don’t boast offensive firepower that been on display so far in this tournament. What Group A has that some of those other match-ups don’t, is balance from top to bottom and possibly luck.
While Canada is playing on its home turf, on paper, the host should be producing goals. Christine Sinclair, who ranks third in international goals, Sophie Schmidt, Jonelle Filigno and Melissa Tancredi combined with a loud, supportive crowd was supposed to be the winning formula for the Canadians. Entering today’s match, it has been substitute Adriana Leon who has provided any spark and earned the penalty kick against China. While it was a foul, the chances of a Chinese forward defending in the box, late in a game shows how soccer is a funny game.
The luck continued for Canada in their last game after defender Allysha Chapman committed a foul in the penalty box, giving New Zealand its best chance of the match. Amber Hearn stepped to the spot and saw her might-be winning goal crash off the goalpost. What the crossbar took away, it also came back to save the Kiwis in the second half. New Zealand’s conservative game plan allowed for numerous Canadian chances but Sinclair’s shot in the 48th minute hit the bar and both teams came away with a point.
So what about the other two squads?
China’s Zhao Rong foul saw the 1999 runner-up drop points it deserved in the final moments of the opening match. Late-game redemption swung back in favor of the Chinese against the Netherlands when they scored in the 91st minute. That goal by Wang Lisi not only was China’s first of the tournament, but gave the team a crucial head-to-head result in case of a tie for second place.
The Dutch haven’t really had that lucky bounce in their way yet and sit with three points in their first Women’s World Cup. The only offense for the Netherlands came from Lieke Martens’ curling shot in the 32nd minute of its opening match.
Three goals, multiple crossbar appearances and lots of drama, has been the story for Group A.
Canada battles the Netherlands, with a victory by either team securing a spot in the Round of 16 and possibly at the top of the table. The offensive potential is there and two of the most impressive goalkeepers, Canada’s Erin McLeod and the Netherlands Loes Geurts, will be called up to continue their outstanding performances against two teams that will look to put up many shots. And Canada, who failed to get out of the group in 2011, will be looking to avoid repeating history.
China’s late victory has the Chinese one point away from possibly winning the group while New Zealand needs a victory to prevent the Kiwis from finishing at the bottom of the table for a fourth straight time.
Whether the offenses find their touch can’t be predicted, but what this group has shown us in the past is expect drama in the final ten minutes of the matches. Expect celebrations, goals, crossbars and drama that will guarantee viewers will be switching back and forth between both matches.