Billed in advance as the biggest and best tournament yet, this year’s Women’s World Cup hasn’t disappointed.
There have been goals – 13 of them in one game – controversies and wild celebrations – and that’s just on the pitch. Off it, fans have crowded city streets across France as the country embraces the World Cup for the first time.
With lots of football still to be played until a winner is crowned, it’s the ideal time to reflect on the best moments of the tournament so far.
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South Africa arrives in style
South Africa may have been the first nation to be eliminated from the Women’s World Cup, but that wasn’t without making an impression.
Banyana Banyana brought rhythm and style during their first World Cup appearance, arriving in France armed with a well choreographed dance routine.
The team’s fans also brought plenty of color and sound, unperturbed by the fact that their side suffered defeats to Spain, China and Germany.
Here’s to seeing plenty more of South Africa on the biggest stage of women’s football in the future.
Dutch fans out in force
Le Havre was bathed in a sea of orange when Netherlands came to town.
Dutch fans flocked to the north of France in their thousands to watch as their side – the defending European champion – secure a 1-0 victory over New Zealand.
Netherlands’ star striker Vivianne Miedema also wrote her name into the record books in the group stages.
She scored a brace against Cameroon to become her country’s all-time top scorer with 60 goals (and counting) for the national side, surpassing the tally of retired Manon Melis.
Japan keeps it clean
Japan has set a precedent of keeping stadiums clean and tidy at World Cups.
The men’s team left its changing room spotless after being knocked out in Russia last year, and fans have also been happy to help out by picking up litter after games.
This year has proved no different, with fans staying to sweep between the aisles when most have already headed home.
Nadeshiko, champion in 2011 and finalist in 2015, has brought a youthful squad to France in an attempt to emulate recent success at the tournament.
USA goes big
USA has pedigree when it comes to the World Cup having won more titles than any other nation, and Jill Ellis’ side arrived in France in a ruthless mood by dismantling Thailand 13-0 in Reims.
The zealous celebrations of US players were criticized by some, but Thai coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian said after the match that she took no offense, simply insisting that her side had to improve.
Ellis, meanwhile, who is hoping to become the first coach to win the World Cup twice, remarked that “to be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents.”
The one-sided scoreline was the greatest number of goals ever seen in a Women’s World Cup game and also the biggest margin of victory the tournament has produced.
Endler stands tall
There were fears that Chile – five places lower than Thailand in the FIFA rankings – would be on the end of a similar drubbing in the USA’s second match.
It wasn’t, thanks largely to a stunning performance from goalkeeper Christiane Endler. The Paris Saint-Germain star was in fine form despite her country’s 3-0 defeat, and put in a performance to defy arguments – according to former US goalkeeper Hope Solo – that women should play with smaller goals.
Even without star strikers Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, the US attacked with venom. But a series of sharp saves from Endler ensured that the result – despite seriously denting Chile’s chances of reaching the knockout stages – remained respectable.
VAR – an ongoing issue
Debate surrounding football’s video assistant referee has been swirling for years and shows no sign of dying down during the Women’s World Cup.
France has twice been the beneficiary of VAR decisions as the host nation was awarded match-winning penalties against Norway and Nigeria in the group stages.
“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 Wendie Renard was allowed to retake her missed penalty when goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie was deemed to have stepped off her line.
There will, no doubt, be more controversy to come.