It took a remarkable six-minute period in the second half for what had been a largely uneventful Women’s World Cup match to come to life in Rennes as France beat Nigeria 1-0 in dramatic fashion.
The task facing Nigeria’s Super Falcons before a partisan 28,267 crowd at Roazhon Park had always been deemed a formidable one.
France had won 15 of its last 16 games coming into its final group match – conceding only six times in the process – but the Super Falcons seemed up to the task until the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) came into play in the 73rd minute and created a period of theater.
Nigeria defender Ngozi Ebere had brought Viviane Asseyi down inside the box, leaving the referee with little option but to award the spot kick once Melissa Borjas had opted for a VAR check.
Ebere was subsequently shown a red card for a second bookable offense, while France defender Wendi Renard went on to hit the post from the spot – only for VAR to give France a lifeline by penalizing Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie for stepping away from her line before the ball was hit.
Renard retook the penalty and this time dispatched her effort with aplomb to give the hosts what proved to be the match-winning goal.
In 18-year-old Nnadozie – who became the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at a World Cup in Nigeria’s victory over South Korea – Nigeria had a player who had stood up to whatever came her way, until the teenager suffered a harsh lesson on the biggest stage of all.
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“If I give you my honest feelings, they’ll probably send me home so it’s better I don’t say anything,” Nigeria coach Thomas Dennerby told reporters after the match.
“My players are heroes. Of course I’m disappointed by the result, France is a really good team and don’t need support from anybody to win games. The girls were fighting so well, they followed the match plan and it’s getting destroyed by people that we’re not so happy with.”
Nigeria, which did not muster a shot on target against France, must now wait to learn if it has done enough to reach the last 16, while France – winning all three group matches for the first time in its history – will play its last-16 match in Le Havre after topping Group A.
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Germany maintains 100% record
In Marseille, Germany had already qualified for the knockout rounds, but that didn’t stop the high-flying side from dismantling South Africa in its final group stage match.
In truth, the 4-0 scoreline could have been much worse for South Africa, which leaves its first ever World Cup with three defeats from three matches.
German attacks came thick and fast in Marseille, and victory would have been by a greater margin had Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s team not squandered several chances in front of goal.
The emphatic result, however, extends Germany’s remarkable record in the World Cup group stages to 19 games without a defeat – the last coming to Sweden in 1995.
Melanie Leupolz, Sara Daebritz, Alexandra Popp and Lina Magull all got on the scoresheet with two goals gifted to the two-champion through sloppy South African defending.
“I’m extremely happy that we’ve reached the round of 16,” said midfielder Daebritz, who scored her side’s second goal.
“We got nine points from three games. We’ve worked hard, had a lot of willpower, and today we delivered a great performance.
“We can enter the round of 16 with a lot of confidence. We’re very happy about it.”
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Leupolz opened the scoring after 14 minutes when she took advantage of poor marking from a corner to head past Andile Dlamini – her first goal since the 2016 Olympic Games.
The goalkeeper was then at fault for Germany’s second, parrying an unthreatening cross into the path of Daebritz who coolly netted her second goal of the tournament and 12th in international colors.
Popp towered above Lebohang Ramalepe to head home her side’s third goal at the end of the first half, and Magull tapped in midway through the second period after Dlamini pushed a Marina Hegering header onto the inside of her post.
Both sides had chances in the closing stages with Germany having two goals ruled out for offside. South Africa, meanwhile, searched for just its second goal of the campaign but couldn’t convert.
The result means Germany – as has become customary – marches into the knockout stages with a 100% record, while South Africa becomes the first team to be eliminated from the tournament.
In the other game in Group B, Spain and China played out a 0-0 draw in Le Havre which saw both teams progress to the last 16.
Spain, which finished second in Group B on goal difference, has reached the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in its history and is likely to face defending champion the US in the next round.
Former finalist China, which has never failed to progress beyond the group stages, is guaranteed to finish as a best third-placed side and could face England.
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Norway safely through
Two penalties at the start of each half against South Korea ensured that Norway reached the World Cup knockout stages for the seventh time in Reims.
It took just four minutes for Norway to take the lead after Cho Sohyun was pinged for holding Maria Thorisdottir in the box.
From the resulting penalty, Caroline Graham Hansen scored what was not only the earliest goal of the tournament so far, but also the fastest penalty ever scored at a Women’s World Cup.
South Korea then started to build momentum, enjoying plenty of possession and 14 first-half shots.
It was Norway, though, which seized the advantage when Kang Chaerim brought down Graham Hansen in the box. With the No.10 hurt in the challenge, Isabell Herlovsen stepped up and powered the spot kick through the hands of Kim Minjung.
South Korea’s World Cup was now all but over, yet it continued to press forward with energy. Eventually, the reward came after a deft back heel from Lee Geummin put Yeo Minji through on goal, who finished past Ingrid Hjelmseth.
More chances came, but it wasn’t to be. The game ended 2-1, sending Norway – which is without star player Ada Hegerberg this year – through to the round of 16.