The uncertainty that comes with every World Cup has finally shown its face. Nigeria stunned Australia, the co-host and tournament favorite. The Philippines defeated New Zealand, earned its first World Cup victory. Norway, a fixture in the knockout rounds for years, has yet to win a game.
The warning embedded in those results — that a momentary lapse can have significant consequences, that doubt can start to creep in — has not been lost on some of the favorites who failed to impress in their opening games. A second game offers a second chance for teams to take back control of their path.
England needs that kind of positive statement against Denmark on Friday if it wants to live up to its own lofty expectations for this tournament. The Lionesses, who won the European championship on home soil last year, used a penalty kick to edge Haiti, 1-0, in their opening game. But England failed to score a goal in open play for the third straight outing — a run filled with opportunities but, worryingly, lacking in goals.
“We talked about ruthlessness,” Coach Sarina Wiegman said of the discussions inside of the team. “We talked about coming into the final third, the crosses being right, coming into the box at the right time, and we worked on that.”
In Friday’s other game, Haiti faces China with another opportunity to earn a its first-ever World Cup win.
England vs. Denmark
England may have won its opening game over Haiti, but a narrow 1-0 win was not the way the Lionesses wanted to open their World Cup campaign.
Denmark, a team with big ambitions after missing the last three World Cups, is in a similar boat. After Denmark defeated Norway, Japan and Sweden earlier this year, the Danes were hoping to build toward being a real contender. Instead, it took 90 minutes for the Danes to score in their opening game before they eventually found the goal that delivered a 1-0 win against China.
England has hopes of winning it all. A win over Denmark, with China after that, would be a good way to start building some momentum.
“Performances mean a lot to us, but results are important too,” defender Lucy Bronze said. “It’s not always about scoring seven goals. If you have enough to win the game, that’s important.”
China vs. Haiti
Haiti may be the pre-eminent underdog of this tournament. The team has no corporate sponsors and could not play a game in its home country in the lead-up to the World Cup. Still, Haiti held England to a single goal — on a retaken a penalty kick — in its opening game.
Now, Haiti faces China. The Chinese were once a dominant force in women’s soccer — they faced the United States in the 1999 World Cup final — but have faded from the world stage more recently. China’s current world ranking, 14th, is its highest in seven years, but it will take wins to change its trajectory. Haiti offers a good chance.
Argentina vs. South Africa
South Africa had shocked Sweden in its opening match of this World Cup by taking the lead against a team that is hoping to contend for the title. But it couldn’t hold the lead, and eventually lost the game.
South Africa’s second group-stage game saw more of the same, with the team taking the lead on goals aided by defensive letdowns by Argentina. But again, South Africa couldn’t hold its lead: Argentina scored twice in five minutes late in the second half to steal a valuable point, leaving South Africa to lament now what it won — the first World Cup point in its team’s history — but what might have been if it had been able to close out the job.
Playing in its fourth World Cup, Argentina is still hunting for its first win. Finding it won’t be any easier in its final game, against Sweden.