Standout Performances of the Women’s World Cup Group Stage

With the group stage in the books, we take a look at some of the best individual and team performances from the 2023 World Cup so far. 

If you haven’t tuned into this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, boy are you missing out.

It’s been a brilliant opening stage for the biggest tournament in the women’s game. Already there have been a variety of noteworthy results and performances, from late heroics and individual brilliance, to stunning displays of dominance. This iteration is also one for the underdogs so far, with giants falling out of the group stages and upsets wherever you look.

It was extremely difficult to whittle two weeks of non-stop action into a succinct list. But nonetheless, these are the pick of the bunch.

Project “Blue Lock”

The second goal in Japan’s 4-0 win over Spain took a whopping three passes before Riko Ueki planted it past Misa Rodriguez.

This was the theme of a game where Japan had only 23% possession and generated a measly 0.91 xG, yet somehow they handedly defeated their formidable Spanish opponents. This game was as brutal a lesson as it gets on the principle of counterattack.

What made this outcome all the more shocking was the form of Spain entering this matchup. The eight goals scored and zero conceded in their games with Costa Rica and Zambia had many touting Spain as the most impressive team of the tournament through two matches. Japan entered this game with a supreme game plan courtesy of manager Futoshi Ikeda, and their airtight defending and merciless finishing ensured that their coach’s five changes paid off.

Japan’s performance was remarkable on more than just a tactical and team level. Hinata Miyazawa dropped one of the best individual displays of the group stages. In just 45 minutes of play, she had a hand in three goals, scoring two and setting up the third. All that with just 29 touches.

Miyazawa now sits atop the golden boot race with two braces in three games.

The Nadeshiko will enter the round of 16 as the only nation to win all three of their group games without allowing a goal. It certainly bodes well for them going into their clash with Norway.

The Reggae Girlz Turn Group F on its Head

Entering the tournament, turmoil and dysfunction burdened the Reggae Girlz. In an open letter, the players cited a lack of funding, proper training camps and support from the Jamaican Football Federation for what was set to be their second World Cup appearance in a row.

This makes what followed in the group stages even more impressive.

They opened their tournament with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against France, a performance that showed grit, resolve and defensive prowess that was lacking in their 2019 campaign. That showing four years ago saw them concede 12 times in three games, and their match with France went a long way in redeeming that performance.

They followed up their shutout of France with an imposing 1-0 victory over CONCACAF debutantes Panama in a game where Jamaica probably should’ve had three or four goals.

The cherry on top though was their epic finale with Brazil.

The Brazilians knew entering this fixture that they needed a victory to ensure they progressed, with the Reggae Girlz needing only a draw. Their showing against France proved to be the blueprint for this matchup as Jamaica dug in and refused to be broken down.

Their midfield trio of Vyan Sampson, Drew Spence, and Atlanta Primus were all excellent throughout the first two games, and they stepped it up another level against Brazil.

Coach Lorne Donaldson’s game plan meant that this trio would have to work endlessly to reduce the spaces in the middle of the park and hound Brazil’s playmakers. The task was daunting, but Jamaica’s engine room was disruptive enough on the day.

The standout? Goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer. Eight saves, each of them crucial, and a Player of the Match award to boot. Her presence in goal has been immense for the Jamaicans, and she has yet to concede a goal. If they are to extend their Cinderella run, Spencer will have to continue her heroics.

The Colombian Late Show

There’s not many things in football that top a wonder goal the caliber of Linda Caicedo’s. Well, except maybe a 97th-minute winner. Luckily for Colombian fans, they didn’t have to choose between the two.

What Colombia produced in their 2-1 victory over Germany was incredible. Firstly, there was Caicedo’s goal.

Still only 18, the Colombian forward goaded two German opponents before sliding her way between them effortlessly and sending a rocket into the top corner. Germany were stunned by one of the game’s breakout stars, but they did not let heads drop.

This was a team who had experience and an abundance of talent all over the pitch. Surely they’d find a way back. They did just that when Alexandra Popp stepped up for a penalty on the cusp of 90 minutes, which she subsequently dispatched.

At that moment, you wouldn’t have blamed Colombia if the wind was knocked out of their sails and the game petered out. Manuela Vanegas had other ideas however, and with the game’s final meaningful action, her perfect header from Leicy Santos’ corner sealed a famous win for Colombia, and put them firmly in position to top the group.

South Africa at the Death

South Africa sat on the outside looking in with one game to play in Group G. Banyana Banyana were without a win in their World Cup history and staring down the barrel of a tough closing fixture with Italy.

What ensued was almost certainly the most enthralling match of the World Cup so far.

The Azzurre required only a draw to advance, a task that Arianna Caruso would set them on their way to completing with her 11th-minute opener from the spot. Midway through the first half, they would prove architects of their own downfall with Benedetta Orsi’s own goal, which shifted the mood of the contest.

South Africa would take the lead with just over 20 minutes remaining via Hildah Magaia before the Italians pegged them back shortly after with Caruso’s second.

At this point, there was nothing to lose for the women in yellow, and their bombardment of the Italian stronghold would eventually prove successful. With 97 minutes played, it was Thembi Kgatlana who stole the headlines after some wonderful wing play from Magaia, who turned provider.

The referee’s final whistle meant a famous 3-2 victory for Banyana Banyana and progression to the knockouts.

Samba-Ball Takes Center Stage

Ary Borges. There’s your headline.

A hat trick on her World Cup debut. Two in the first half, her third to finish off an already demoralized Panamanian outfit. The cherry on top was her audacious assist for Bia Zaneratto’s goal, arguably the goal of the tournament so far and the epitome of Brazilian football.

The football on display was nigh on tear-jerking, the Borges performance was awe-inspiring, and the Brazil fans dared to dream of going all the way. Unfortunately for them, this level of fluidity in attack proved difficult to recreate in their following two games.

In the end, the Brazilians went out behind Jamaica and France, but it would be a massive oversight to leave this performance off the list. Marta, the greatest player in the history of the sport, had her last dance on this stage, but the youth and talent of their squad make it hard to bet against a sensational Seleção resurgence in the years to come.

Morocco. Just, Morocco.

FIFA’s No. 72-ranked team, Morocco was on the receiving end of a 6-0 hammering from Germany in their opening game of their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was easy to dismiss the tournament debutantes, and perhaps the Moroccans could’ve went home with their heads held high if they were at least competitive in their next two matches. They certainly did that, and much more, against all odds with nothing but effort and heart fueling them.

Like Jamaica, it’s impossible to speak about just one of their games.

Following their humbling first match, the Atlas Lionesses picked themselves up and went to business against the South Koreans, a team ranked 55 places above them by FIFA. Ibtissam Jraidi scored the country’s first-ever Women’s World Cup goal after just six minutes — a deft header into the far post sending the fans into delirium. They fought admirably for 80-plus minutes and were rewarded with a victory that seemed impossible just days prior.

Going into their final group game against tournament standouts Colombia, the Moroccans knew that even a win (unlikely as that may have been) would not have been enough without a German slip. Nevertheless, Morocco came out like a team possessed and took the battle to a Colombia side that was one of the tournament’s best.

Their moment would come in first-half stoppage time when Jraidi was bundled over in the box, and a penalty was given. Ghizlane Chebbak’s penalty was saved, but Anissa Lahmari was on hand to tap home the rebound.

Colombia tried everything but simply could not find a second-half equalizer, meaning a second 1-0 win on the bounce for the Atlas Lionesses.

Their job was done, the match was over, and attention turned to the Germans. After an incredibly anxious wait, the Moroccan players erupted when news filtered through of Germany’s misstep. It was a moment that will undoubtedly go down in the history of the women’s game.

In the end, the team at their first ever World Cup topped the Germans, who had never failed to reach the last 16. Improbably, impossibly, Morocco went through, and Germany went home.

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