GERMANY TOPPED GROUP B AFTER A COMFORTABLE 2-0 WIN OVER RUSSIA THAT SAW THEM GO THE FIRST ROUND OF MATCHES UNDEFEATED. FOR SWEDEN, THEY WILL HAVE WORK TO DO AFTER A SPIRITED ITALY PUT IN A STERLING PERFORMANCE TO WIN THE GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT SO FAR, 3-2.
HERE’S OUR LOOK BACK AT GROUP B.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE GROUP
Most, if not all, people projected Germany and Sweden going through. And everyone was right on those selections, but how those results came to be was nowhere near as simple and straightforward as many thought.
You have to give credit to Italy and Russia for giving the projected top sides in this group a real run for their money and Italy picked off a dramatic victory over Sweden on the final match day. And even Germany, who took top honours in the group with a record of two wins and one draw weren’t as dominant as other German teams fared in previous competitions at this stage.
So again, while it was expected for Germany and Sweden to advance, it took more work than they imagined it would.
FOR THE TEAMS WHO ADVANCED, WHAT WORKED
We start with Germany, the winners of Group B. You knew there were going to be some adjustments on how the team would go about their business in the Netherlands as opposed to previous competitions.
Many key players from last summer’s Olympic triumph are missing out due to injury or retirement and there is a new boss at the helm in Steffi Jones. And it was noticeable that Germany needed a little bit of time to get their engine going after a methodical draw against Sweden and needing to capitalise on crucial mistakes in a 2-1 victory over Italy.
But in their final group stage match against Russia, they looked comfortable for the first time. They were able to break down the Russians in the midfield and created a plethora of chances. Jones’ side won’t be pleased that they didn’t finish off more opportunities, but if they are able to gain any momentum off this result heading into the knockout rounds, there is a strong chance we will see history repeat itself, which will have Germany hoisting the trophy next Sunday.
Sweden, on the other hand, cannot feel too sure of themselves after their performance in this group. Their organisation against Germany was strong and they frustrated the reigning European champions enough to get a result and then followed it up with a fairly routine win over Russia.
But it was a frustrating performance when they faced Italy on Tuesday and it will have a lot of people pointing to a possible early exit in the quarterfinals.
Their defense were carved open on multiple occasions by the Italian strikers and when it was imperative to finish off their chances in the last 15-20 minutes, they failed to do so.
While their entire performance in the group shouldn’t be highlighted by one game, there will be a lot of questions that need answers before Saturday’s quarterfinal against the Netherlands.
But if there is one person that you would want in your corner to try and come up with a game plan that allows you to advance in the knockout stages, it would be Pia Sundhage. And after the Olympics last summer, they certainly know what it takes to get it done at this point so I wouldn’t doubt that they would rely on that experience to help them come this weekend.
FOR THE TEAMS WHO WERE ELIMINATED, WHAT DIDN’T GO RIGHT AND WHAT CAN THEY BUILD ON
Before the tournament, it was expected that Germany and Sweden would advance from this group so both Russia and Italy had to put forward their very best efforts in playing the role of gatecrashers.
Russia played their best when it most needed, in the opening match against Italy, because the winner of that match had a realistic chance of advancing if they were to get a result. And they stunned Italy with a pair of goals inside the first half-hour, which was good enough for three points despite a furiously staged comeback from their opposition.
But from that point on, they were out played in two matches afterward, completing just 63% of their 393 passes and managing just three shots on target against Sweden, while not testing Almuth Schult in goal on Tuesday. So at the end of the day, they did what they were expected but still have a bit to improve on, especially in their play through the midfield as they really didn’t get a foothold in that area of the field in any of their matches.
Italy will in fact be kicking themselves for not bagging an equalising goal in their attempted comeback against Russia, because if they scored, they would have advanced due to their head-to-head result against Sweden.
The big theme with the Italians was that their on-field performance was very inconsistent throughout their three matches. At times, they played brilliantly and at others, they made critical mistakes that cost them points. And in a group like the one they were in where you couldn’t afford to make mistakes, that is what cost them.
But if they have anything to take away from this tournament, it was their victory against Sweden. Despite having a few chaotic moments in defence, they were able to finish off the chances they created and kept Sweden on their heels for large stretches. Also, they were able to send their captain Melania Gabbiadini off with a victory as it was announced she was retiring from football after the match ended.
MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER OF THE GROUP
WINNER: Lotta Schelin (Sweden)
HONOURABLE MENTION: Barbara Bonansea (Italy), Dzsenifer Marozsán (Germany)
This was an extremely tough decision to make as while all three were very deserving, Schelin gets the edge. She had a big hand in keeping her team together defensively against Germany in the opening match and put in a tremendous shift in that one. And then when she needed to be an influence offensively, she checked off that box by scoring goals against Russia and Italy. And there is no doubt that she will need to carry that form over into the knockout stage as they will face a stern test against the Netherlands.
It is very much worth noting however, that serious consideration was given to Italy’s Barbara Bonansea for this honour.
She reveled in her role on the flanks and had a hand in nearly every goal that Italy scored, including assisting the game winner against Sweden. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that after her performance in this tournament that teams might be looking to coax her away from Brescia in the near future, because she has the ability to be a game-changer.