Why favourites should be wary of more shocks at Women's World Cup

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Manuela Vanegas
Manuela Vanegas's winner gave Colombia a last-gasp win over Germany, one of a number of upsets seen at the 2023 Women's World Cup (Image: Photo by Elsa - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brisbane’s Lang Park is so noisy and turbulent on matchdays that it is affectionately nicknamed ‘the Cauldron’ by locals.

When the big moments happen here, whether they be tries or goals, the subsequent roar sweeps around every single seat of the 52,500 state-of-the-art stadium.

But when Germany crashed out of the Women’s World Cup following their 1-1 draw with South Korea on the final night of group stage action, a strange hush descended over the crowd. The Cauldron had lost its' heat. No-one knew quite what to say or how to react, from up in the press box right down to the pitch.

Some German players looked tearful, others stared into space, barely believing what had just transpired. “Things didn't quite click,” admitted midfielder Lena Oberdorf after the game. “That's the right phrase for that I think. Because we didn't really show the combination we can show and how we know we can play.

“It's sad that we didn't do that because I know what we can do in this team and when we deliver it, it makes it so much fun to play with the girls. It’s really, really sad that we couldn't show it on pitch tonight.”

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The narrative of this game, not only painted by Oberdorf, but plenty of others was just that. Germany couldn't play their normal game and if they had, South Korea would have been blown away.

After all the Koreans had lost both of their opening group games. But here they were magnificent. Time and time again the German back-three, playing an extremely high line tried to push into their half and create overloads.

But this was tactical arrogance bordering on stupidity. The technically excellent Korean midfielders, in particular former Chelsea star Ji So-yun, found huge spaces of turf for their forwards to charge into at will, meaning the Germans were constantly fighting fires in defence. They delivered Colin Bell's game plan to perfection.

This was just the latest example of teams at this tournament massively underestimating the benefits of a low block and a well-organised defence. Germany assumed they could get the ball out wide and overpower Korea with Alexandra Popp supported by Lea Schuller.

Why favourites should be wary of more shocks at Women's World CupAlexandra Popp of Germany looks dejected after the team's elimination from the tournament during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group H match against South Korea (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Instead Korea’s skipper Kim Hye-Ri put in a colossal performance, making three last ditch tackles and countless blocks and clearances to keep things tight at the back. Granted Popp did score, but it was the only time the Asian side switched off all night, with manager Bell lamenting the goal after the game as highly preventable.

USA were guilty of the same charge against Portugal only a few nights before in Group E. The holders were very nearly caught cold when Ana Capeta went clean through in the 91st minute only to hit the post. Former US coach Jill Ellis then suggested on Friday that many teams were now taking inspiration from Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. Focused on dominating possession and creating overloads in the wide areas, with defensive high lines.

But the women’s game has also developed hugely in recent years outside of the top nations. Gone are the days where the best teams would have so much time on the ball, it was almost inevitable their fitness and technical superiority would win the day.

Along with England, Japan have been the most impressive side at this tournament but their adaptable style is what has turned heads, rather than trying to be Man City-imitators. Against Spain they defended with their lives and were ferocious on the counter-attack.

In a 4-0 thrashing, they recorded three goals from just three touches in the opposition box during the first 45 minutes. They now are widely regarded as serious contenders. Some of the lower ranked sides have also shown their ability to bounce back from adversity, something that was rarely seen in the women’s game ten years ago

Morocco’s defence were almost collectively written off after Germany disposed of them 6-0 in the opening game. But they then put on a superb defensive shutout to deny Colombia, the 1-0 win a scoreline that proved equally fatal to the German’s early elimination. And the Koreans' superb display against the two-time champions came after back-to-back defeats..

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Why favourites should be wary of more shocks at Women's World CupSofia Bouftini and Morocco players celebrate advancing to the knock out stages (Photo by Alex Grimm - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Elsewhere, Jamaica are yet to even concede a goal at the finals - a remarkable achievement in a group with France and Brazil. They also do battle knowing if they can keep things tight at one end, there is always a chance Bunny Shaw could strike at the other.

The Reggae Girlz won’t fear anyone in their half of the draw, England included. This is the theme of the tournament. The World Cup where the lower ranked nations became more streetwise, more game-savy and just generally better defensively.

So as we head into the knockouts, the likes of France, Netherlands and Sarina Wiegman’s England can’t get complacent. This is the Women’s World Cup that has already produced the biggest tournament upsets in history and no-one is too big to find themselves on the end of a shock.

Don’t be surprised if we see even more over the coming days and weeks.

Jack Lacey-Hatton

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