The US Women’s National team progressed to the Round of 16 of the 2015 Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 win over Nigeria on June 16, with Abby Wambach scoring the match’s only goal in Vancouver.
The USA finishes the group stage in first place of Group D, with a total of 7 points. Second-placed Australia (4 points) secured a spot in the Round of 16 with a 1-1 draw over Sweden, who sits third with 3 points. Depending on results to come, Sweden could technically still advance, but (according to people who can do these math things better than myself) it seems like unlikely that they will. Nigeria finishes last with 1 point and has been eliminated.
Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan started up front for the US, and the former (despite looking fatigued throughout the second half) stayed on the full 90 minutes.
The first half started with a strong US performance, and a string of early set pieces led to a goal by Julie Johnston in the 8th minute which would be waved offside. Megan Rapinoe, seemingly very confident at the moment, let several good shots fly in the first half. In the 35th minute there was a pretty indisputable handball inside the Nigerian box, but it was not spotted by officials. As the first half was drawing to a close, it looked like the match would be scoreless leading into halftime, but a corner kick in the 45th minute found the boot of Wambach who volleyed the ball home to make it 1-0.
The offensive game, on paper at least, looked to be evenly matched as the skill of the US attack was to be counteracted by the pace of the Nigerian forwards. And while that pace from the Nigerian forwards did help get them a few opportunities, the US back four was up to the task and defended well. The story of the game is told pretty clearly by the amount of shots, as Hope Solo only had to save two shots the entire game (out of a total seven), whereas Nigerian goalkeeper Precious Dede had to make seven saves from 14 shots.
Precious Dede was probably the most interesting case to study from this match. At times she looked very unsure of herself and generally shaky. She had her defenders take goal kicks and free kicks in the box for her, which I’ll admit I myself have done—in U-16 soccer and younger. As a national team goalkeeper, being able to kick the dead ball is a skill that you have to have, period. There was one instance in the first half where Dede decided she would take a goal kick, which resulted in turning the ball over and Rapinoe had a shot which required saving by Dede. At the same time though, Dede came up clutch many times with 7 shots saved, and probably saved her team a more unpleasant scoreline.
The Nigerian defense, as the game wore on, looked to get desperate in their tackling. They ended the match with four yellow cards and one red card earned by Sarah Nnodim for receiving a second yellow card.
The second half of the match played out to be relatively uneventful, with the exceptions of the substitutions of USWNT veterans Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone, both of whom played their first minutes of the tournament. Rampone also became the oldest player to play in the Women’s World Cup, at the age of 39.
After tonight’s match, one has to wonder if Wambach has found her form again. The game winning goal has to bring confidence to fans, coach Jill Ellis, and, of course, Wambach herself. We’ll have to see if Wambach’s fitness can be addressed, especially if she is going to play multiple full 90 minute matches. I, for one, sure hope so as Wambach is a star player at peak form.
The US plays their Round of 16 match on June 22 against an opponent that is still to be determined. Is that elusive third star on the crest drawing ever nearer? Time will tell.