It was a night of penalties as France won Group A, with Norway finishing second.
France beat 10-woman Nigeria 1-0 thanks to a second-half penalty whilst two penalties took Norway past South Korea. What did we learn?
1. Wendie’s Wild World Cup
Wendie Renard opened the World Cup looking like a force of nature. An impassable defensive titan and an unstoppable offensive presence. She kept a clean sheet, marshalling the Korean forwards with ease. She also scored two goals and got an assist (later wiped out by VAR). It looked like Renard was going to dominate the tournament like no defender ever has.
Then she was much less impactful against Norway. She was still good, and for the most part defensively excellent, but she also scored a needless own goal to briefly put France under real pressure. Then tonight in the third game she found yet another way to steal the headlines, this time by stepping up to take France’s second-half penalty.
First, she missed. Taking a really casual run-up and slapping the ball against the post. Then because teenage goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie was slightly off her line when Renard shot, the penalty had to be retaken. Renard made no mistake on the re-take and thumped it in to give France the lead. It’s been a wild World Cup for Wendie Renard, what will she come up with next??
2. Norway will be praying for CGH
Any time a great attacking player goes down their team-mates and fans go into a kind of instant panic mode, scouring social media in a desperate search for any kind of news about their favourite. That reaction is normal.
However the panic will be double for Norway at the World Cup. Already without Ada Hegerberg because of the striker’s political stance against gender inequality in Norwegian football, they had to play most of the second half against Korea without their best player and scorer of their opening goal, Caroline Graham Hansen.
The Barcelona winger has been a shining light amidst an otherwise stodgy set of performances from Noway. Her electric dribbling and attacking drive allowed her to really make a difference for her country. She was felled early into the second period, a tackle which resulted in Norway’s second penalty and goal, but the impact forced Graham Hansen off.
Norway went on to win without her but they will be praying that her injury isn’t anywhere near as bad as it first looked, because without their wing wonder they will truly suffer in the knockout rounds.
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3. VAR is pure drama
Many people felt that when VAR was introduced the big problem would be that introducing technology would help certainty, and eliminate the grey areas that create so much of football’s drama. Oh how wrong we were!
VAR has created whole new types of footballing drama. Moments we never knew could be spellbinding are. Every single goal celebration now has a cloud hanging over it. If your team has just conceded, don’t get mad yet! VAR could yet rule it out! Did you think your side got away with a nasty tackle? Well that’s to VAR you may not have! Did your side just score or miss a penalty? Well don’t react just yet because it may have to be retaken!
Contrary to popular belief, VAR is pure drama. That’s like 90% of what it offers. Drama, with a little bit of accuracy. It gave us three penalties tonight (well, four really given Renard had to retake her) and is creating an entirely new way to experience football, and only adds to all of the madness of football.
4. Korea offered too little too late
South Korea lost their first game 4-0, their second game 2-0, and their final game 2-1. Their performances improved to match their results as well. They were nowhere near France in the opener, they battled Nigeria fairly well, and shut Norway down brilliantly and scored their first goal of the World Cup with a stunning effort that may go down as the best goal in the World Cup.
Improving as you go is always favourable, but Korea simply waited too long to get going. They needed to play like they did second-half against Norway against Nigeria so that they could have built on that and really been able to make a play for that third spot in Group A. Alas, they didn’t – one can only hope they are able to keep this group together and build on them, because if they keep getting better like this then by the time the next World Cup rolls around they’ll be the best team in the world.
5. France still can’t figure their forwards out
France have dominated every single game a the World Cup so far. They’ve played with supreme authority and control in each game, even though they rotated some of their players before today’s game against Nigeria. The midfield still hummed, the defence was still solid… but that attack.
Individually each of France’s attackers has had good tournaments. Valerie Gauvin was quiet tonight but played a huge role in the win over Norway. Kadidiatou Diani was unimpressive in the opener but playing out wide against Norway and tonight off the bench she looked a livewire. Delphine Cascarino has been a dribbling sensation. Eugenie Le Sommer has oozed class, etc. etc. etc.
But as a unit? They’ve been terrible. France’s inability to get their attackers to gel and perform at the same time as a cohesive trio has dogged their games. They relied on corners to destroy Korea and since then have needed penalties to beat Norway and Nigeria. However well they’ve played and for all the potential they’ve shown, their attack has yet to click and has enormous room to grow.
Whether it’s a matter of aligning them correctly, or perhaps picking a different selection of players, Corinne Diacre must do something because if she keeps things as they currently are then France’s profligacy is going to cost them against the first great side they come across (e.g. the USA in the quarter-final).