The women’s World Cup moved up a gear on Saturday with three matches including a narrow German victory over China that left the winners complaining that they were roughed up, but Sunday’s three-match programme finishes with a new chapter in the oldest international football rivalry, as England take on Scotland in Nice.
Germany beat China 1-0 in Rennes on Saturday with a 66th-minute goal by 19-year-old Giulia Gwinn.
Later, Spain came from behind against first-time participants South Africa to win 3-1 and join Germany at the top of Group B.
In the evening, Norway found there is life after Ada Hegerberg, scoring three times in 20 minutes in the middle of the first half to beat Nigeria 3-0 in Group A.
The Germans complained that the Chinese had aimed for their ankles.
“They were often late in the tackles and kept catching our feet,” said German captain Alexandra Popp.
Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said she had not been sure at one stage if star Dzsenifer Marozsan would finish the match.
“A lot of our players were caught on the ankle today, and it doesn’t look good for some of them. What Dzseni Marozsan suffered today was brutal.”
“We were a little surprised by the assertive approach of the Chinese, but it’s a competitive game, not a friendly,” she said.
In Le Havre, South Africa took a shock lead with their first ever shot on target at a Women’s World Cup when Thembi Kgatlana, who plays for Beijing BG Phoenix in China, curled a right-foot shot into the top corner in the 25th minute.
Spain dominated possession, but needed 69th and 82nd-minute penalties, both converted by Jennifer Hermoso, to regain control of the game.
Guro Reiten scored Norway’s first goal and gave a player-of-the-match display to suggest Norway can thrive without Lyon striker Hegerberg who refused to come to the tournament.
“I don’t think I have played better,” Reiten said.
The victory puts Norway level with France at the top of Group A.
On Sunday evening, England and Scotland meet for the first time in a Women’s World Cup.
- Pressure and expectation -
England lost in the semi-finals in 2015 and at Euro 2017 but those runs attracted attention and they won the prestigious SheBelieves Cup in the United States earlier this year.
“For us as players, we know that there is a lot more interest in our team, and obviously with the results and the success that we have had with the SheBelieves, of course that brings a little bit of pressure and a little bit of expectation,” said the captain, Steph Houghton.
Scotland kick off their first World Cup match with memories still fresh from their 6-0 humbling at the hands of England at Euro 2017.
The Scots are much-changed since the 2017 humiliation. Former Arsenal boss Shelley Kerr has taken over as coach and key players who missed that game are set to feature this time.
“Probably of all the teams we’ve got in the group stages this is our toughest game by far. I think Scotland can go a long way in the competition with the quality they’ve got,” said England coach Phil Neville, even though Group D also contains Japan, winners in 2011 and England’s semi-final conquerors four years ago.
Leading Scotland into a World Cup puts Kerr in a privileged position. After all, the men have not been to a major tournament since 1998.
“Obviously it is our first World Cup, we are the first Scottish team to play at a World Cup for over two decades,” said Kerr.
Earlier on Sunday, there are two games in Group C.
Australia, a constant force in women’s football take on a rising power, Italy, in Valenciennes.
Then the Samba football of Brazil encounters the Reggae Girlz of Jamaica in Grenoble. While former finalists Brazil still boast the greatest woman footballer, Marta, Jamaica, appearing for the first time, are the lowest ranked team in the tournament.