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2023 Women's World Cup

The Big Story Day 3: Sophia Smith shines for USWNT, Japan scores five, England barely edges Haiti, Denmark gets late heroics

(Photo Copyright Ane Frosaker/SPP)

Day 3 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup saw the United States open play against debutants Vietnam, Zambia take on Japan, England play Haiti and Denmark take on China.

Slept through it and need to know what the big story is? This is what happened on the third day of the World Cup.

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Your bite-sized recap of Day 3 of the 2023 Women’s World Cup

United States 3, Vietnam 0

The Big Story: The United States did what they needed to do to get a 3-0 win off of Vietnam in a chaotic and often very physical match. Still, some disconnected play and missed chances — including a missed penalty by Alex Morgan — show that the U.S. still has some questions that need answering.

The Big Moment: Vietnam was the debutant nation, but World Cup debutant player Sophia Smith made a huge splash with a brace in the first half and an assist in the second half. Her first goal came in the 14th minute, when she latched onto a backheel pass from Alex Morgan to send in a low left-footed shot. The goal showcased exactly how good the U.S. can look when they’re clicking.

What It Means: As expected, the United States won comfortably. They dominated possession with 66% and got off 28 shots with 7 on goal while keeping Vietnam from getting off a single shot during the entire match. There are some strong positive takeaways for the United States in this match. Smith scoring a brace is a major positive. The fact that Savannah DeMelo earned her first start with the U.S. in this match and looked completely at home bodes well for the team, as does the fact that Julie Ertz put in a strong shift as a center back. Rose Lavelle also came in as a substitute to earn her first competitive minutes in over three months and looked as sharp as ever.

On the less positive side for the U.S., they looked more disconnected and even overwhelmed at times. A lot of work was done to get the ball into the box, but crosses were often sent too late. Passes didn’t connect as often as they should have. Even with their dominance in possession and in shots taken, there was more scrambling after the ball than they would probably like. Alex Morgan missing a penalty kick at the end of the first half was also a low point for the U.S., although this seems to be on trend for this World Cup. A penalty has been awarded in every match played thus far but, oddly enough, only two have been converted. To be clear, there was nothing that seemed like a red flag for the United States, but they’ll definitely want to play a cleaner match against the Netherlands this Wednesday.

For Vietnam, this game was a mixed bag. The results could have been much, much worse if not for the heroics of goalkeeper Trần Thị Kim Thanh, who was unquestionably the MVP of the match. In addition to her saving Morgan’s penalty kick, she also stopped solid shots from Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Smith on several occasions. While they can celebrate the fact they weren’t blown out in this match, the fact they couldn’t even muster a single shot all match is a definite point of concern.

-Bekki Morgan

Zambia 0, Japan 5

The Big Story: Zambia came into its first World Cup with a lot of momentum after beating No. 2 Germany 3–2 in a thrilling friendly back on July 7, but a concise and consistent attack by Japan stopped the Copper Queens in their tracks.

The Big Moment: Zambia is without its usual starting goalkeeper, Hazel Nali, after she tore her ACL in training camp ahead of this World Cup. With backup goalkeeper Catherine Musonda in goal, the Copper Queens held the Japanese attack at bay until the 43rd minute. It was a beautiful build-up from Yui Hasegawa, who sent it wide to Aoba Fujino, who perfectly placed the cross into the run of Hinata Miyazawa, that put Japan on the board.

What it means: Japan dominated the first half, retaining the ball well and building up wide effortlessly. Early in the half, Japan sent in a number of crosses without runners in position, but as it grew into the game, it was able to be more and more dangerous. In addition to sending in lots of dangerous crosses, Japan showed the strength of its shooting from well outside the box, forcing Musonda to make some incredible saves.

Japan kept Zambia shotless in the first half and kept Zambian striker Barbra Banda from getting in behind the backline. Banda caught the world’s attention when she became the first player to ever score back-to-back hat tricks at the Olympics. Arguably Zambia’s most talented player, Banda’s team was forced to qualify for the World Cup without her. Zambia also faces uncertainty around its head coach, Bruce Mwape, who is under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Japan’s offensive momentum continued in the second half, but offside calls continued to be its plight. Midway through the first half, a set-piece goal was called back for offside, and in the second half, a counterattack that ended in a goal was called offside after review. Japan also had a penalty kick awarded to it overturned after the player fouled was ruled offside. Japan eventually found its groove and scored four more goals in the second half, but with six offsides calls, it’ll want to clean that up as it moves through group play. 

For Zambia, its road in the World Cup won’t get any easier. Its next match is against Spain, a team that loves possession and building attacks even more than Japan. Zambia will need to figure out how to withstand the continued attacks, which will be a bit harder after Musonda got her second yellow card late in stoppage time, making her unavailable for the Spain match. The Copper Queens finished the match without a single shot. They’ll need a plan for how to get Banda the ball in situations where she can do what she does best — be dangerous and score.

– Taylor Vincent

England 1, Haiti 0

The Big Story: Georgia Stanway’s 29th-minute penalty stood up as the only goal as England edged a tenacious Haiti 1-0 in an entertaining Group D match. The European champions were frustrated in their attempts to build on the lead, and needed a sprawling kick save from Mary Earps in the 81st minute to preserve it.

The Big Moment: Haiti, in its World Cup debut, may well have escaped with a scoreless draw if not for a strange penalty conceded. A few minutes after a VAR review for a potential penalty fell in its favor, Batcheba Louis oddly threw her hands in the air jumping for a defensive header in the box. VAR told the story again, and this time, referee Emikar Calderas ruled the ball touched Louis’ fingertips and pointed to the spot. Kerly Theus saved Stanway’s initial attempt but was ruled to have left her line prematurely — VAR again — and Stanway buried the retake.

What it means: There is a lot to take away from the match. One of the tournament favorites struggled to assert dominance over a team ranked nearly 50 spots lower. England controlled possession and for long stretches of the match was content to patiently knock the ball around and wait for spaces to open up in Haiti’s defensive setup. But it was unable to generate many chances of real quality. Theus was strong in goal for Haiti but was never put to the test to make any spectacular saves. Rachel Daly made a late appearance for England and got in for one header on which she appeared to have position on the keeper, but Theus was able to muscle her way in and knock the ball away. Any pre-tournament concerns that England will not have enough scoring to get on the podium at the end of the month remain ahead of Group D matches against Denmark and China.

Meanwhile, Haiti made a proverbial statement about belonging in the newly expanded, 32-team field. It set up in a defensive bloc but was never afraid to challenge English passing lanes or launch counterattacks after winning possession. The Haitians actually had the first great chance of the match 14 minutes in, when Melchie Dumornay played Roselord Borgella in behind the English defense, but Borgella was unable to get her shot on frame.

Dumornay was nothing short of sensational. The 19-year-old (she will turn 20 before the end of the World Cup) had her contract with Lyon kick in at the beginning of July and gave the French giants a preview of her skills. Dumornay was the best midfielder on the field for either side, winning many balls and giving England issues with her possession and passing. Nerilia Mondesir also had a strong match for Haiti; it was Mondessir who set up Roseline Eloissaint with the 81st-minute chance that Earps kicked away to crush Haiti’s dreams for a result.

– Dan Lauletta

Denmark 1, China 0 

The Big Story: After missing the last three editions of the World Cup, Denmark started off its 2023 tournament with a 1-0 win thanks to a goal in the 89th minute. 

The Big Moment: Danish forward Amalie Vangsgaard scored her first international goal — off a Pernille Harder corner kick — just four minutes after subbing into the match to capture all three points for Denmark. 

What it means: The standings are tight in Group D, with England and Denmark sitting atop the group after both teams managed 1-0 wins in their World Cup openers. 

Though Denmark came away with the win, this was a back-and-forth affair where neither team really dominated. Both teams struggled to create dangerous chances until late in the game, when Denmark finally broke through. This was a welcome result for a Danish side that is returning to the World Cup for the first time since 2007.

China is likely disappointed to lose this one. It was on the front foot for large stretches of this game and managed to keep Denmark to just three shots in the first half. China struggled to close out the game and ultimately allowed Denmark to maintain momentum through the later stages of the match before conceding the game’s only goal. China’s most dangerous chance of the game — a free kick from Wang Shuang — came in stoppage time of the second half, but it was too little too late for the Steel Roses.

Now, China is facing an uphill battle to advance out of Group D. It’s made it out of the group stage in every World Cup it’s been to, but the path is markedly tougher thanks to this loss. Up next, China will face Haiti. And Denmark will take on England in a game that just might decide the group’s standings.

– Arianna Cascone

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