The eighth Women’s World Cup has been more about sportsmanship than gamesmanship. There are few extended complaints about officiating — or anything, really. Players do not seem intent on either cheap shotting or retaliating. There are collisions, contact, physical play — but finesse is emphasized and everyone seems to be going for the ball within the spirit of the game.
The major disputes after six days have involved penalty kicks, resolved only after excessive delays involving Video Assistant Referee decisions, and the US’s exuberant celebrations as it ran up a 13-0 win over Thailand on Tuesday.
Host country France benefited from the latest controversy, scoring the deciding goal after a kick was awarded in a 2-1 win over Norway in Nice on Wednesday. With the score tied, 1-1, in the 68th minute, Norwegian defender Ingrid Syrstad Engen appeared to have made a clearance, and German referee Bibiana Steinhaus allowed play to continue. But Steinhaus was then informed that the VAR had detected a possible foul, because Engen made contact with a French attacker on her follow through. Steinhaus signaled a penalty and cautioned an incredulous Engen. Nearly four minutes after the play, Eugenie Le Sommer converted from the penalty spot as France gained first place in Group A.
A similar incident occurred as South Africa’s Nothando Vilakazi was yellow-carded in a 3-1 loss to Spain on Day 2. But that decision only took two minutes to resolve, indicating the VAR system might be getting even slower.
And, with much of the attention on VAR oversights in the penalty area, an even more serious problem in the open field has been ignored. China’s roughhouse tactics during a 1-0 loss to Germany ended up having consequences — German midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan sustained a broken toe on her left foot in the match, causing her to miss a 1-0 win over Spain in Valenciennes on Wednesday and making her status uncertain for the rest of the tournament.
In the opening minutes of the Germany-China match on Saturday, China coach Jia Xiuquan was shown lightly punching his right fist into his left palm, a universal indication of a coach urging his players to go in extra hard. Then, in the 12th minute, Shanshan Wang did just that, making a two-footed tackle on Marozsan, who went down exhibiting pain and was slow to arise as Wang was issued a caution.
The Frauen-Nationalelf performed well without Marozsan against Spain, Sara Dabritz’s 42d-minute goal making the difference. Germany virtually clinched first place in Group B, meaning the Germans would avoid a second-round clash with the US.
■ Nigeria took a 2-0 win over South Korea in Grenoble, snapping a 302-minute scoreless streak spanning two tournaments. The Super Falcons scored on a 29th-minute own goal and a 75th-minute Asisat Oshoala score. VAR detected a suspected handling violation on the own goal and it took more than three minutes to validate the score and resume play.
■ The loss of Marozsan means none of the top three Ballon d’Or Féminin vote-getters are playing in the WWC: Norway’s Ada Hegerberg (boycotting); Denmark’s Penille Harder (the Danes did not qualify); and Marozsan.
■ Australia vs. Brazil, Group C, Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier. Marta (fourth in the Ballon d’Or voting) is expected to return from a thigh injury and the Brazilians will need her if they expect to go far in the tournament. Australia must go for a victory after a 2-1 loss to Italy in its opener.
Andressa, Daiane, Debinha, Geyse, and Leticia Santos represent the future of the team. But for now Brazil will depend on its oldest perfomers: Formiga, 41; Cristiane, 34; and Marta, 33.
■ China vs. South Africa, Group B, Parc des Princes, Paris. The Chinese played defensively in a 1-0 loss to Germany, but will likely unleash an attack led by Yang Li (31 career goals) and Shanshan Wang (45 goals).
Paris Saint-Germain’s Wang Shuang (24 goals) did not start in the opener, but should return to the lineup for this game in the city where she plays her club soccer. China has an 0-4-1 record, all five games against European opponents, since Jan. 20. The Banyana Banyana have not won a game this year, and are 0-7-4 in their last 11 games.