The Germans will certainly be the first to admit the way they started the 2019 World Cup is mis-representative of the kind of team they are known to be. They kicked off their campaign against a fellow powerhouse in the 1999 finalists China and then followed that up with a meeting against Spain. So they can be forgiven for not being at their sharpest, but their handling of those encounters proved why they are two-time champions.
They made sure to show their true colours against tournament debutantes and relatively easy opposition, South Africa, in their final group match, sending a warning shot to those who may have dared to think they are anything like what their male counterparts were in Russia last year. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side sought to seal passage to the round of 16 in emphatic style and so they did with a 4-0 win over Banyana Banyana.
In true German style, the result was not owed to a select few players, the whole team made sure to play their parts effectively, with the proof showing in there being four different goal scorers in that match.
Going into the knockout stages, the 2003 and 2007 champions will be encouraged by their resolute defence which conceded no goals in their three group games. They conceded a total of seven shots on target, with four of them coming in their opener against the Chinese. They will also be boosted by the ferocity of their attack, even though their ratio of chances created to chances converted is fairly disappointing.
One particular forward who showed what a menace she can be to defenders, is Sara Dabritz. The 24 year old, who recently left Bayern Munich to join Paris Saint-Germain, wreaked havoc in the South African 18-yard area, but was also instrumental in cutting the supply for Banyana in midfield from time to time. Dabritz’s goal may have been as a result of a horrendous blunder from goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, but after the work she’d put in going forward, it was just reward.
Lina Magull has also raised her hand for Voss-Tecklenburg as a player who can be a headache for the opposition. She will know how important it is to refine her finishing, so as to avoid missing the kind of sitters that fell for her against South Africa, but her energy, constant presence in the right areas and great reading of the game will be very beneficial to her head coach, for as long as their campaign continues.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the impact skipper Alexandra Popp and Melanie Leupolz have had in the group stages and even more so in the match against Banyana. With the likes Dabritz and Magull showing what remarkable poachers they can be in the box, their leader and their midfield partner have flexed their aerial prowess.
Popp’s first goal of the finals came from the head, with her rising highest to steer the ball into the bottom corner, while Leupolz calmly guided what was the opening goal of the match and her first in France well past the ‘keeper. That’s another quality the coach will be pleased to have in her arsenal, as it might come in handy should the upcoming crucial matches need to be decided through a set-piece.
Super Falcons to rely heavily on experience
For the first time since 1999, Nigeria have advanced to the knockout stages of the World Cup, but it wasn’t until the 97th minute of the match between Chile and Thailand that their place in the round of 16 was confirmed.
Having played their game on Monday, the Nigerians had to wait another three days to find out if they would be one of the four best third-placed finishers and while they waited, they also had to pray things worked out in their favour, which they did.
The Chileans beat Thailand 2-0 in their final group meeting, falling one goal short of denying the Super Falcons their dream. That result also meant Africa would have two of her countries in the round of 16 after Cameroon beat New Zealand, also on Thursday, to progress.
The current generation of Nigerian players may not know what’s expected of a team of their level of inferiority in the knockout stages, but they will know they’re coming up against a ruthless nation and history will be there to substantiate that fact.
Nigeria and Germany have met twice in a World Cup. The first time was in the very first tournament in 1991 and it was both sides’ opening match, from which the latter walked away comfortable 4-0 winners. They then rekindled their relationship 20 years later in the 2011 showpiece and again it was the Germans who emerged victorious, this time with a 1-0 win.
Coach Thomas Dennerby will be hoping his crop of Super Falcons can rewrite the history books and not give their opposition a head-to-head hat-trick. For that to happen, they will have to make sure they don’t repeat the mistakes that saw them receive a pummelling in the opening match against Norway and an unlucky 1-0 loss to the hosts France.
The West African nation boasts some fine talent in its camp, including arguably their best player Asisat Oshoala who plies her trade in Spain with Barcelona Femeni – for whom she scored a consolation goal in their 4-1 drubbing by Olympique Lyon Feminine in the Women’s UEFA Champions League final in May.
Oshoala proved just how vital she is as she netted the second goal in their 2-0 win over South Korea in the second group clash, the game which earned them this last 16 berth. The forward’s goal there was coupled with a Kim Do-yeon own goal.
The 24-year-old Oshoala may be the answer for Nigeria, but she will need a lot of assistance from Francisca Ordega and Desire Oparanozie as they look to place that ball in the back of the net. The trio will also need Rita Chikwelu, Chinaza Uchendu and Ngozi Okobi to wrestle control of the midfield from Dabritz, Magull, Leupolz and Svenja Huth, while also delivering key passes.
The biggest concern for the 11-time African champions will be the absence of Ngozi Ebere who was given her marching orders in their game against the French, resulting in the penalty that cost them the game. It also won’t help that they lost Faith Michael in that opener against the Norwegians.
Dennerby will now be faced with the tough task of either reworking his formation or using one of his midfielders as defensive cover. Whatever his plan, his ladies will know how important it is throw everything at this German side if they are to send shockwaves through the competition.
It should come as no surprise that almost everyone is predicting an easy victory for Voss-Tecklenburg’s charges, but history has taught us it’s anyone’s game in the knockout stages and as the famous saying goes, “fortune favours the brave”, something Nigeria will have to be.