Women’s World Cup: Australia Faces Its Injuries, While Newcomers Face Off

With three key players out with injuries, Australia will have to rely on its depth to see it through to the round of 16.Credit…Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Despite being a host country and winning its first match, Australia has so far been “pure unlucky” at this Women’s World Cup, according to its coach. It lost its biggest star, Sam Kerr, before play commenced. It lost two more players ahead of its second match on Thursday, against a plucky Nigerian team. Australia will have to rely on its depth to see it through to the round of 16, and hope for its fortunes to change — perhaps with the return of Kerr.

Thursday’s World Cup matches feature unlikely upstarts who faced top contenders in their opening games and fared better than most expectations. The most successful of those teams so far is Nigeria, which held Canada scoreless in a draw and has an opportunity to exploit Australia’s injuries.

Portugal narrowly lost to the Netherlands, 1-0, in its opening match, and struggled to find shots. Vietnam held the United States to three goals in its opening loss behind a heroic performance from goalie Thi Kim Thanh Tran, including a blocked penalty shot from the American forward Alex Morgan.

Portugal and Vietnam, both World Cup debutantes, will be vying on Thursday for their first-ever wins. Both have tough opponents ahead of them in their third games, with Portugal set to face the United States and Vietnam headed for a matchup with the Netherlands. Simply put, this is the best chance for either side to earn 3 points.

Australia will be without star striker Sam Kerr for a second straight game. It was unclear when Kerr, who suffered a calf injury in training ahead of the opening game, might return. Adding insult to injury, forward Mary Fowler, who had replaced Kerr in the lineup, and defender Aivi Luik are both out with concussions, also sustained in practice. Coach Tony Gustavsson described the situation as “pure unlucky” and said that while Fowler and Luik have recovered, they have to complete the process of the concussion protocols, which will keep them out of Thursday’s game against Nigeria.

That leaves Australia to rely on its depth in a matchup with a team that held Canada scoreless last week. In its opening win over Ireland, Australia struggled to create scoring opportunities, with its lone goal coming off a penalty. Nigeria is emerging as a threat after its performance against Canada, but is also no stranger to the World Cup stage — the Nigerians advanced to the round of 16 in 2019 and have qualified for all nine World Cup tournaments.

South Africa shocked Sweden in its opening match of this World Cup, scoring in the 48th minute to take the lead over a team that is hoping to contend for the title. While the Swedes eventually eked out a win, 2-1, South Africa proved its pluckiness and will be looking for its first World Cup win when it takes on Argentina on Friday in Dunedin, New Zealand (Thursday night Eastern time).

Argentina is facing a quick turnaround from its 1-0 loss to Italy on Monday. Playing in its fourth World Cup, Argentina is still hunting for its first-ever win. The Argentines have arguably their best shot at 3 points against South Africa, with top-ranked Sweden up next.

Sophia Smith of the United States, right, and Victoria Pelova of the Netherlands competing for the ball during Thursday’s match.
They duked it out but came away with a draw.Credit…Buda Mendes/Getty Images

They pushed and they shoved. They gave as well as they got. They traded shots and then they traded goals. But through 90 supremely physical — and at times thrilling — minutes on Thursday, the United States and the Netherlands could not separate themselves at the Women’s World Cup.

And so they walked off after the most eagerly anticipated game of the group stage with a 1-1 draw that will have to be good enough.

The Netherlands, which scored first, may regret that it didn’t come away with a win. But not too much. “I think we’re definitely not unhappy,” Jill Roord, who scored her team’s goal, said of the mood in the dressing room.

The United States, which produced far more scoring chances, may feel it deserved one. Its goal, from Lindsey Horan, came after several good opportunities and was followed by a half-dozen more. “At that point it was our game,” Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “And I’m just disappointed that we didn’t score more than one.”

The United States and the Netherlands know each other well, of course. This game was a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, but also of a second meeting, a year later, in the Netherlands, and a third at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The United States won all of those games. But even its playmaker, Rose Lavelle, admitted that these were different teams, with different coaches and different styles. So perhaps it was not a surprise that the result was different, too.

The game at Sky Stadium was a bruising affair, a frigid day marked by tough tackles and professional fouls that at times felt it was only a moment or two away from boiling over. In the end, though, it was decided by two small moments.

The first was a slip by U.S. defender Crystal Dunn in the 17th minute that set off a scramble finished by a hard, low shot by Roord that sneaked past U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

The second moment, the United States’ response, came after yet another hard foul in the 62nd minute. Dropped by a tackle in front of her team’s bench, Horan, the U.S. co-captain, dusted herself off, strode straight to the middle of the penalty area for a corner kick by Lavelle, and then threw herself at it to deliver the header that tied the score.

Credit…Amanda Perobelli/Reuters
Credit…Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The United States pressed relentlessly for a winner from there, but the Netherlands — seasoned by history, improved by its past encounters against the Americans — hunkered down and fought off every one of them.

The result left the teams tied atop Group E with 4 points from a win and a draw, and crunching the math that it will take to win the group and reach the knockout rounds. For now, that edge goes to the Americans on goal difference, plus-3 to plus-1, but that could change over the final group games.

The United States will face Portugal on Tuesday, a game that will be played simultaneously with the Netherlands’ game against Vietnam. The Americans and the Dutch will not see each other again unless they both reach the final. Gritty performances like Thursday’s suggest that both teams may have the mettle to hang around for a while.