How It Unfolded: Group A at the FIFA Women’s World Cup

Just ten days after the commencement of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, we’re now certain of the first two teams to seal their progression to the round-of-sixteen. It’s time to look back at all of the Group A action, and how these two sides advanced to the knockout stages in an utterly chaotic group.

Matchday One

New Zealand v Norway (1-0)

Auckland’s Eden Park played host to the opening match of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, with New Zealand facing Norway – and setting the attendance record for a football match in the country. Just hours after news of a fatal shooting in the Central Business District, the match served as an opportunity to unite in face of adversity.

Norway were clear favourites ahead of kickoff and had a point to prove after their woeful early elimination at the 2022 European Championships, but it was a match truly dominated by the co-hosts. The Grasshoppene looked utterly disjointed, and in truth it seemed as through they’d never played together prior to the match.

Just moments into the second half, New Zealand’s pressure told as Jacqui Hand surged down the right flank before delivering a pinpoint cross towards Hannah Wilkinson. The forward made no mistake as she rifled an effort past Aurora Mikalsen, sending the 40,000+ crowd inside Eden Park into a moment of sheer euphoria.

A golden opportunity to double their lead from the penalty spot was squandered, with Ria Percival thundering an effort against the crossbar after Tuva Hansen was judged to have handled the ball inside the box. Ultimately though, the Football Ferns were able to withstand late pressure from their European opponents – seeing out their first ever win at a FIFA Women’s World Cup in their sixteenth match at the tournament.

In an emotional post-match interview, Ali Riley dedicated the win to the victims of the earlier shooting, coming close to tears as she added that ‘this morning, something really, really tragic happened and we wanted to bring something positive tonight.’

The Philippines v Switzerland (0-2)

The Philippines’ looked to clinch a shock result against Switzerland in their debut at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, taking inspiration from New Zealand’s surprise win against Norway. It looked as through they’d be able to do just that when Katrina Guillou rounded the goalkeeper to tuck away their first ever goal on the global stage, but the striker was found to have been offside as the received the ball.

Just moments before the half-time break, Ramona Bachmann fired la Nati into the lead from the penalty spot after Jessika Cowart’s late challenge on Coumba Sow. That looked to inspire a much-improved performance throughout the second half, but still the Swiss struggled to make their pressure tell.

The second goal did come eventually though, with Seraina Piubel picking up the pieces to stab home from close range. Ana-Maria Crnogorčević saw her initial effort saved well by Olivia McDaniel, who did phenomenally to deny Coumba Sow’s follow-up – but she was left helpless as Seraine Piubel pummelled the ball over the line on the third time of asking.

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Matchday Two

New Zealand v The Philippines (0-1)

Keen to build on their points tally after that shock win in the opening match of the tournament, New Zealand welcomed the Philippines to Wellington. It was Jitka Klimková’s side that enjoyed the better of the opening stages, pushing from the get-go to find an early goal – though every trip to the final third was brought to an abrupt end by a poorly-placed pass.

The Philippines were seemingly content to sit back and soak up the pressure, pouncing on poor passes to dart further towards goal and draw fouls from the New Zealand defence. Sara Eggesvik did well to pick up the pieces from one of the resulting free-kicks, delivering a looping effort into the box that was met by Sarina Bolden. The forward’s headed effort managed to get the better of Victoria Esson, who could only stumble over the line in desperation – and the Philippines had netted their first ever goal at the tournament.

New Zealand emerged from the break with a palpable determination to find an equaliser, and they came unbelievably close to doing so as Hannah Wilkinson planted her header over the bar just before the hour mark. Jacqui Hand also squandered a great opportunity, striking the woodwork after neat play on the left wing.

It looked as though the Football Ferns had finally been granted that all-important levelling goal, as Hannah Wilkinson dummied Hali Long on the edge of the penalty area before whipping a looping ball towards Jacqui Hand at the far post. Her headed effort was sent crashing into the back of the net, but a VAR review found that the assister had been marginally offside in the buildup – and the Philippines retained their slender lead.

Switzerland v Norway (0-0)

In need of a convincing performance after their concerning loss to New Zealand, Norway looked to register their first points of the tournament against a Switzerland side that had seen out a win against the Philippines.

Hege Riise’s side were dealt a hefty blow through an enforced change just seconds before kickoff, as Ada Hegerberg was seen heading down the tunnel with what was later revealed to be a groin strain. Sophie Román Haug stepped into an already changed lineup, with Julie Blakstad, Caroline Graham Hansen and Ingrid Engen having been dropped after woeful performances against New Zealand.

Yet this match still remained goalless at the break, despite chances for both sides throughout the opening half. Thea Bjelde did well to deny Ramona Bachmann, but it was the Norwegians that enjoyed the better opportunities – Maren Mjelde launched an effort over the woodwork, before Gaëlle Thalmann was called upon to deny Sophie Román Haug.

Norway were ever so desperate to prove a point on the global stage, but ultimately they were only able to add one to their worrying points tally after a great performance in the second half from Gaëlle Thalmann. The ‘keeper ensured Maren Mjelde’s header wasn’t able to settle in the back of the net, and produced a fine save to deny Caroline Graham Hansen – and Frida Maanum’s rebounded effort.

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Matchday Three

Norway v The Philippines (6-0)

Norway’s opening two matches left the Grasshoppene with just a solitary point heading into this fixture, meaning that not even a win would guarantee Hege Riise’s side a spot in the round-of-sixteen – though three points would be enough for the Philippines.

There were concerns about Norway’s ability to score ahead of kick-off, as the Scandinavian side had failed to do so prior to this match, but the doubts were rapidly put to bed by Sophie Román Haug in the sixth minute. Having replaced the injured Ada Hegerberg ahead of Norway’s second fixture, the AS Roma striker was keen to make an impact – and she added her second strike just eleven minutes later, nodding Vilde Bøe Rosa’s cross home at the far post.

Opportunities were plentiful for Norway for the first time so far in the tournament, though Sophie Román Haug was denied her hat-trick soon after as her headed effort was delivered into the arms of Olivia McDaniel.

The third goal did arrive for the Grasshoppene though, with Caroline Graham Hansen creating space for herself to unleash a long-range effort that left the goalkeeper helpless. A three-goal lead at half-time from a refreshed Norwegian side put them on course to progress – though if they’d performed like this in their prior two fixtures, that would have already been assured.

It was an own goal from Alicia Barker that further extended the Norwegian advantage – as she looked to keep Guro Reiten from getting onto the end of Frida Maanum’s delivery, she inadvertently sent the ball crashing past Olivia McDaniel and into her own net.

Guro Reiten was hurtled to the ground inside the penalty area in the latter stages of the game, and stepped up to the spot to convert for Norway’s fifth goal of the match. Things would still grow worse for the Philippines, who were reduced to ten as Sofia Harrison was shown a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Thea Bjelde.

Sophie Román Haug finally completed her hat-trick in the dying seconds of stoppage time, arriving on the end of Guro Reiten’s cross to whip a headed effort past Olivia McDaniel and put an end to the Philippines’ suffering.

Switzerland v New Zealand (0-0)

The threat of becoming the first host nation to fail to progress from the group stages loomed over New Zealand ahead of their final match against Switzerland. Ramona Bachmann conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area, though Katie Bowen’s delivery struck the wall – and Annalie Longo’s rebounded effort was sent wide of the target.

But as Norway found a second goal against the Philippines, New Zealand knew that only a win would be good enough to seal progression. Jacqui Hand seemed to get the memo, darting through the Swiss defence before thundering a strike against the upright.

It looked as through the Swiss backline were parting for the New Zealand attacking force, as Hannah Wilkinson looked to nod Jacqui Hand’s header towards goal – though a goalmouth scramble saw la Nati maintain their clean sheet for a little while longer.

Malia Steinmetz had an opportunity to fire the hosts into the lead after latching onto Katie Bowen’s corner, but her first-time strike was delivered into the arms of Gaëlle Thalmann. Despite arguably being the stronger of the two sides, the Football Ferns simply hadn’t been able to find a breakthrough – bowing out of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup as a result.

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The Standings

Despite being involved in two goalless draws, Switzerland progress to the knockout stages as the winners of Group A. They’ve scored just twice in the tournament thus far, with both goals coming against the Philippines – who finished at the bottom of the group.

Despite a less than convincing showing in their opening two matches, Norway clinched progression on the final day of Group A action. But from what we’ve seen so far, you never know what you’ll get from the Grasshoppene – though if they can keep producing performances like this, they may well reach the latter stages of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It’s all over for New Zealand though, as the Football Ferns become the first host nation to fail to reach the knockout stages of a FIFA Women’s World Cup. Jitka Klimková’s side did record their first win on the global stage though, so it’s not all negative.

The Philippines failed to make the desired impact on their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut – but they’ll take pride in their win over New Zealand. Sarina Bolden’s goal will live long in Philippine folklore.