As the curtains came down on the final Group B matches, Germany thrashed South Africa 4-0, while Spain drew 0-0 with China.
For the match on the southern coast of France, Die Nationalelf made light work of South Africa, securing a 4-0 win courtesy of goals from Melanie Leupolz, Sara Dabritz, captain Alexandra Popp and Lina Magull to finish first in the group.
Meanwhile, in proceedings north of the border, Spain and China played out a goalless stalemate, which was enough to send the European nation through to the knockout stages.
And so, it was a frantic finish to Group B in the Women’s World Cup, but who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Melanie Leupolz
After 1048 days without an international goal, Bayern Munich’s Leupolz has ended her barren run after she broke the deadlock in the match against Banyana Banyana. With only 14 minutes on the clock, a whipped corner from Verena Schweers found its way to Leupolz, who managed to elude the South African defence before heading home from six yards out.
It was wretched defending from Desiree Ellis’ side, but the Bavarian midfielder certainly won’t mind one bit as she has now found the back of the net for the first time since the 2016 Olympic games.
With Leupolz netting the opening goal, it meant that, at the time, 11 of Germany’s last 12 goals scored across all competitions had been bagged by a different player, showing the versatility and goalscoring prowess of Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s squad.
Loser: Desiree Ellis
South Africa have bowed out of the Women’s World Cup having lost all three of their Group B matches, and in truth, they never really looked like they possessed the requisite ability to course a storm in France.
Defeat at Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson this afternoon has not only eliminated the African nation from the prestigious tournament, but that was also their 13th consecutive match without recording a win.
In that time Banyana Banyana have lost on nine seperate occasions, while drawing just four times, and that unwanted statistic never looked like being rectified against Germany, as the Europeans ran riot.
Ellis’ side showed a lot of heart and grit in the previous match against China, and were perhaps a tab unfortunate not to sneak a point, but there was a clear gulf in class here, with Die Nationalelf a level above.
Germany have topped their group, and they done it in some style, cruising to qualification to the knockout rounds at a canter, while doing so without conceding a single goal.
Victory for the two-time world champions has preserved their record of never losing a final WWC group match (seven wins, one draw), while Germany have also now won their previous four matches against African nations in the World Cup, scoring 19 goals in that time against South Africa, Nigeria – twice – and Ivory Coast – while also keeping a clean sheet in all those matches dating back to 1991.
What is even more impressive for Germany is that they have only suffered defeat once in their last 24 group stage matches at the premier knockout tournament, winning 19 and drawing four times.
Loser: Wang Shuang
All eyes for China have been on the diminutive midfielder who has drawn parrallels with a certain Lionel Messi, Wang Shuang, but the Paris Saint-Germain ace has so far failed to really light up this Women’s World Cup.
Being the only player in the Steel Roses ranks to ply her trade outside of China, expectations were high going into the tournament for the 24-year-old, who is so often the fulcrum of the nation’s play.
Manager Jia Xiuquan left her out of the starting XI for the opening match against Germany – a 1-0 defeat thanks to Giulia Gwinn – while against South Africa, while she certainly showed glimmers of her brilliance, the standard was below her usual quality.
And again, she was notably off-pace this afternoon, coming off in only the 56th minute as China struggled to assert themselves – they failed to register a single shot on goal upon her departure. She is without question a formidable force on the turf, but is yet to showcase her world class ability in France.
Winner: Jorge Vilda
The 37-year-old Madrid-born coach has masterminded a second-place finish for La Roja, and will see his nation through to the round of 16, joining Germany in the knockout stages.
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Indeed Spain have only managed to clinch a victory once in six matches at the Women’s World Cup, drawing twice and losing three times, but this was the first time that the Europeans have managed to keep a clean sheet in that time.
Vilda’s side truly nullified the attacking potential of the Steel Roses this afternoon as the Asian nation only managed a first shot on the Spanish goal in the latter stages of the second half. Spain only needed a point to secure qualification, and they comfortably ensured that that was the case.
Loser: Andile Dlamini
Having stepped in to replace Kaylin Swart, the more experienced Dlamini would have been hoping to impress manager Ellis, but much like the opening match against Spain, the 26-year-old proved unable to prevent a string of goals entering her net.
Swart had a fairly stable game during her only appearance against China in the previous match, conceding just the single goal, but Ellis decided to tinker with her tactics and re-introduce the Mamelodi Sundowns shot-stopper.
In fairness, her defence done little to protect her as Germany threw the kitchen sink at South Africa, but there were one too many aberrations on her part for the shots that did go in, notably a poor attempted save for Germany’s fourth goal and a quite ridiculous dive for Dabritz’s tap-in.