FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 | Ilestedt goal gives Sweden late win over South Africa; Netherlands edges Portugal

Jamaica produced one of the biggest surprises of the Women’s World Cup so far by holding France to a 0-0 draw

July 24, 2023 01:03 am | Updated 06:09 pm IST - WELLINGTON, New Zealand

Amanda Ilestedt of Sweden celebrates after scoring her team’s second goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group G match between Sweden and South Africa at Wellington Regional Stadium on July 23, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand.

Amanda Ilestedt of Sweden celebrates after scoring her team’s second goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group G match between Sweden and South Africa at Wellington Regional Stadium on July 23, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Amanda Ilestedt scored in the 89th minute to give Sweden a 2-1 win over South Africa in its Group G opener at the Women's World Cup on Sunday and deny South Africa the first major upset of the tournament.

South Africa shocked Sweden when Hildah Magaia scored in the 48th minute. But Sweden got on the board in the 64th minute with Fridolina Rolfo's equalizer. Ilestedt then produced a perfect header from a corner with a minute left to help Sweden escape at the end of an unimpressive opening game effort.

Sweden was expected to comfortably win the group and it's first match against 54th-ranked South Africa looked to be it's easiest. But after a scoreless first half, Sweden came out of the locker room flat and South Africa capitalized with the first goal of the match three minutes after the restart.

Thembi Kgatlana dropped behind the defense and struck a high shot that keeper Zecira Musovic could only parry. Magaia hurled herself forward with such force she was carried into the goal along with the ball.

Sweden failed to take advantage of a dominant first half in which it had 71% of possession, eight corners and five shots on goal, three on target.

Finally urged into action, Sweden pressed forward and equalized when Johanna Kaneryd's sweeping cross from the right side missed the head of Stina Blackstenius but fell at the feet of Rolfo and ended in the net.

South Africa played in new all black uniforms, a departure from its usual green away strip, and the jerseys were a stark contrast to Sweden's all gold on a gloomy, rainy evening at Wellington Regional Stadium.

The Banyana Banyana seemed energized and played with a verve which often worried Sweden when it was expressed on sudden, incisive counter-attack.

The South Africa players were buoyant after settling a long-standing pay dispute with their national federation which assured them they will receive the $30,000 FIFA has promised every player at this World Cup. Banyana Banyana players sang and danced as they stepped down from their team bus and made their way to their locker room an hour before the match started.

They sang and danced again as they left the field.

Rain began falling in Wellington about two hours before kickoff and continued steadily, sometimes heavily into the match, glazing the pitch and making it slick in places. The wind, usually omnipresent in Wellington and a factor when Spain met Costa Rica on Friday, was absent and the harbor which flanks Sky Stadium on its eastern side, was glassy.

Key moment

Ilestedt’s 89th minute goal, a masterpiece at the end of a match in which Sweden seldom sparkled.

The ball was swept in for Sweden’s 11th corner of the match and Ilestedt was perfectly placed to head the ball down and into the net. It was a cruel blow to South Africa who played with great courage and shocked Sweden with the first goal of the match. But it put Sweden’s campaign on track, giving them an expected early lead in Group G.

Why it matters

Sweden hadn’t lost a World Cup group match since 2003 and for a moment on Friday that record looked in jeopardy. But goals from Rolfo and Ilestedt, the second with moments left, allowed Sweden to grab an expected Group G win. It wasn’t impressive and Sweden will have to improve.

Italy and Argentina, the other teams in Group G, received a warning not to overlook South Africa after its plucky performance.

What’s next?

Italy and Argentina meet in the next match in Group G in Auckland on Monday. Both will have watched and noted South Africa’s performance. The group suddenly looks tighter than expected.

South Africa plays Argentina in Dunedin on Friday and Sweden faces Italy in Wellington on Saturday.

Netherlands scores early then shuts down Portugal 1-0

Stefanie van der Gragt scored on a header in the 13th minute, leading the Netherlands to a 1-0 win over Portugal at the Women’s World Cup on Sunday as the 2019 finalists began their tournament run.

The Dutch defender gathered herself as teammate Sherida Spitse lofted a corner kick her way, then headed the ball across the goal into the far side of the net. An offside review delayed the celebration.

The goal by the 30-year-old van der Gragt, who plans to retire after the Women's World Cup, was the quickest first goal of the tournament. The Dutch controlled the tempo of the game — Portugal’s first shot of the match didn’t come until the 82nd minute.

The meeting with the Netherlands, ranked No. 9 in the world, marked Portugal’s first-ever tournament appearance.

On hand were 11,991 spectators, who were sheltered from the rain inside Dunedin’s covered Forsyth Barr Stadium, known as the Glasshouse, which has a capacity of 25,947.

Though most of the crowd appeared to be Dutch fans, a small but vocal group of Portuguese supporters with flags and team apparel banged on drums throughout the game, the beat echoing across the venue.

Key moments

Van der Gragt’s first-half goal gave the Dutch a lead and allowed them to play lockdown defense. Both teams played a physical game, but Portugal was unable to match the Netherlands’ technical mastery.

Why it matters

The Dutch victory raises the stakes for their upcoming rematch with the two-time defending world champion Americans, who beat Netherlands 2-0 in that 2019 final. A winner in that match will gain control of Group E and could very well wrap up a berth in the knockout stage.

Portugal failed to break through and become the first of the eight newcomers in the Women's World Cup to get a win.

In their own words

“It’s an important goal. I’m proud of the team and it’s a good win. The first game is always the important game of the tournament and I think these three points are really good for us.” — Stefanie van der Gragt, Netherlands defender.

“What the Portuguese players did today is of utmost courage, utmost character. To play the vice-champions of the world (2019 runners-up), the Portuguese players managed to break their rhythm. We just need to play more matches and get used to this,” Francisco Neto, Portugal head coach.

What’s next?

Netherlands heads to the Group E showdown against the U.S. on Thursday in Wellington. Portugal faces Vietnam, which didn't get a single shot on goal in its 3-0 loss to the Americans, also on Thursday. That match is in Hamilton, with the loser likely out of contention for the round of 16.

Jamaica holds France to a surprising 0-0 draw

Hervé Renard knows all about World Cup shocks. He also knows an early setback can be overcome in international soccer.

With that in mind, the France coach was not unduly concerned by his team's 0-0 with Jamaica on Sunday, which was one of the biggest surprises so far at the Women’s World Cup.

Renard led Saudi Arabia to a famous win against Argentina at the men's World Cup in Qatar last year, before Lionel Messi's team rebounded and went on to lift the trophy for their country.

“I’ve already won competitions after drawing my first two games,” said the two-time Africa Cup of Nations-winning coach. "Let’s talk about the World Cup 2022. I don’t think that we should be getting ahead of ourselves.

“There are lots of people, lots of teams that start with the fanfare and are not there come the final and others are maybe slow to get out of the starting blocks.”

While there is no need for France to panic, this was still an unexpected result for the fifth-ranked team in the world and one of the tournament favorites.

By contrast Jamaica is ranked 43rd and entered the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand having lost all of its games at its World Cup debut in 2019 with a goal difference of -11.

“We always tell our players just don’t worry about the rankings,” said Jamaica coach Lorne Donaldson, who declared his country's first point ever in the competition as its greatest achievement in soccer.

“I think it is the No. 1 result I have seen men or women,” he said. “I would put it there. If you go by the rankings you would say that result on this stage has to be No. 1.”

Jamaica's players ran onto the field after the final whistle as if they'd been crowned world champions. It would have been a very different story had Kadidiatou Diani's 90th-minute header not struck the bar.

In a game of few chances, Diani had France's best opportunities to score a winner, but could not find a breakthrough at the Sydney Football Stadium.

She forced a save from Jamaica goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer in the first half and saw another effort deflected wide.

Another header in the second half also went wide of the target before her late effort came back off the bar.

The French were expected to be too strong for Jamaica, but favorites have not had everything their own way so far in the tournament. The 2019 quarterfinalists were the latest to struggle against an underdog.

Australia needed a penalty to get a 1-0 win against Ireland, while European champion England also needed a spot kick to overcome Haiti 1-0. Nigeria held Olympic champion Canada 0-0.

“The French are used to having the upper hand during the opening games, but this is something that is going to change because things are getting a lot closer," Renard said. “We need to keep our heads up high and we need to keep our confidence high.”

Jamaica did well to disrupt a France team that struggled to put together fluid moves.

In one of France’s few moments of quality in the first half, Diani saw a low effort bundled around the post by Spencer. From the resulting corner, Wendie Renard headed over from close range.

Kadidiatou was fractions away from giving France a halftime lead when firing from the edge of the area. Chantelle Swaby managed to get something in the way of the shot, which deflected narrowly wide with the keeper beaten.

After seeing another header go wide after the break, Kadidiatou almost came up with the decisive moment when hitting the bar.

On an otherwise joyous night for Jamaica, it may come to regret the red card for star forward Khadija Shaw, who will be suspended for the next game.

What’s next

France plays Brazil in Brisbane on Saturday. Jamaica travels to Perth where it will face Panama.

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