In the years to come it would seem that Group B at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ was a straightforward affair for the group’s top two teams. Although England and Japan progressed to the quarter-finals with a comfortable points margin, the group matches were all tight contests save for Japan’s impressive 4-0 win over Mexico.
*Final standings: *
1. England (7 points)
2. Japan (6)
3. Mexico (2)
4. New Zealand (1)
The next fixtures
Germany - Japan, Wolfsburg, 9 July, 20.45 (local time)
England - France, Leverkusen, 9 July, 18.00 (local time)
*A look back
**Many pundits would gave selected England and Japan to advance to the quarter-finals from Group B and so it ultimately proved. Mexico were making their first appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup for 12 years, while New Zealand had yet to claim a point in their two previous participations.
The opening day of action proved that the record books could not be relied upon as a gauge. Asian heavyweights Japan needed a second-half free-kick, delivered with typical aplomb by dead-ball genius Aya Miyama, to edge the well-organised New Zealanders in Bochum. Meanwhile in Wolfsburg, England started in dynamic fashion against Mexico, but ended the match hanging on for a share of the points.
Japan turned on the style to overwhelm Mexico 4-0 to book their qualification after two matches. England had a far tougher time in scoring a comeback victory over the Football Ferns on the same day.
That left England and Japan meeting on the final matchday with top spot on the line, and potentially the chance to avoid host nation Germany in the last eight match-up. England still needed a point to guarantee their progression and it showed in their display, with the Three Lions grinding out a hard-working 2-0 victory over the technically accomplished Nadeshiko.
Mexico’s campaign, which promised so much, ultimately delivered little on the scoreboard although they will take much from the overall campaign. This is despite the heartbreak of missing a first victory at this level, after New Zealand scored an equaliser deep into injury time. Mexico, however, showed more than enough class to demonstrate their have a strong future amongst the world elite.
New Zealand too will look back at Germany 2011 as something of a breakthrough tournament, with the Kiwis enjoying incremental improvement in each match. In their opener, New Zealand held Japan until the midway point of the second half, and then against England took the lead – a first in their eight-match FIFA Women’s World Cup experience – before succumbing to a late goal. The real joy came for New Zealand with virtually their last touch of the tournament, as an equaliser four minute past the regulation 90 meant a 2-2 draw against El Tri and their first point at this level.
El Tri magic
Mexico’s 12-year wait to return to the world stage looked likely to turn sour when England had them on the ropes early in Wolfsburg. However, on 33 minutes little Monica Ocampo unleashed a spectacular long-range thunderbolt that is destined to go down as one of the magic moment of Germany 2011. The goal changed the momentum of the match completely and Mexico could easily have won the match creating several late chances, most notably a wicked free-kick from ‘Moni’.
*Veteran Sawa continues to defy age
*Although now 32-years-old, and competing in her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup, Homare Sawa continues to be as effective as ever. A classy treble against Mexico saw Sawa become the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
*Japan show appreciation
*Prior to Japan’s opening match against New Zealand, the Nadeshiko carried a large banner across the pitch: ‘To our friends around the world: Thank you friends for your support.’ The banner was, of course, a way of expressing gratitude for support from the global football family after the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March. Perhaps it helped inspire Japan who firstly defeated the Football Ferns, and then repeated the feat against Mexico a few days later to greatly improve their FIFA Women’s World Cup record of only three wins in 16 matches.
*New Zealand spirit
*Never doubt the New Zealand character is a message that should be heeded loud and clear after the team from Down Under scored on 90 minutes, and then again four minutes into injury time, against Mexico to earn a draw. It was the Football Ferns’ first point at the FIFA Women’s World Cup following fruitless campaigns in 1991 and 2007. An interpretation of the Haka, the famous Maori dance, at the conclusion of the match seemed an apt way to celebrate.
The group in numbers
6 – The number of headed goals scored in the group out of 18 goals in total.
*“The ambition was to get out of the group. We topped the group and it can only increase our confidence,” *England coach Hope Powell