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

There was plenty of drama in Group B, as Australia looked to progress to the knockout stages in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on Matchday Three. Nigeria and Canada were also hopeful of a spot in the round-of-sixteen, with Ireland’s hopes having been abruptly ended after opening two defeats. It’s time to look back at the Group B action and highlight just how the two successful sides made it through.

Matchday One

Australia v Ireland (1-0)

Australia’s opening match came just hours after their co-hosts, New Zealand, had recorded a shock win against Norway at Eden Park – and the Matildas were keen to equal the Football Ferns’ winning start. Australia were dealt a colossal blow ahead of kickoff, with Sam Kerr announcing that she’d be watching at least the opening two matches from the sidelines after sustaining a calf injury in training.

The Girls in Green grew into the game well after a flurry of early chances for Australia, but it was the Matildas that came closest to scoring in the first half – as Heather Payne was called into action to make a fine block to deny a certain opener.

Just minutes into the second half though, Tony Gustavsson’s side were able to take the lead from the penalty spot after Marissa Sheva shoved Hayley Raso to the ground inside the area. Up stepped Steph Catley, who found the back of the net with a powerful, precise effort that left Courtney Brosnan with little chance of making the save.

There were to be a few late chances for Vera Pauw’s Ireland though, with Katie McCabe at the beating heart of everything the Girls in Green produced. The Arsenal superstar tangled her feet after being played through on goal inside the area, as a golden chance to level this tie and clinch a point went begging.

Nigeria v Canada (0-0)

Nigeria looked to get off to a winning start in Group B as they faced Canada, though Bev Priestman’s side enjoyed the better of the opening stages. The Super Falcons began to grow into the game after twenty minutes or so, with Ifeona Onumonu forcing a save from Kailen Sheridan to keep the match goalless.

A slip-up from the goalkeeper looked to allow Barça’s Asisat Oshoala a chance to set up one of her colleagues from a tight angle, though the forward wasn’t able to do so – and the two teams headed down the tunnel with nothing to separate them at half time.

Just minutes into the second half, Lena Lehtovaara was called to review a potential penalty decision at the pitch side monitor, with Francisca Ortega’s challenge on Christine Sinclair found to be deserving of a chance from twelve yards. Sinclair’s effort was saved remarkably by the Chiamaka Nnadozie though, with the goalkeeper diving low to deny Canada’s all-time leading female goalscorer.

Yet the drama was far from over, as Nigeria’s Deborah Abiodun was dismissed in the dying minutes of injury time for a reckless challenge on Ashley Lawrence. A painfully mistimed tackle left Lena Lehtovaara with no choice but to upgrade the initial yellow card to a straight red – ensuring the Super Falcons star would miss their game against Australia.

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Matchday Two

Canada v Ireland (2-1)

With both sides keen to pick up their first win of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Bev Pressman made the bold decision to bench Christine Sinclair after her penalty miss against Nigeria. Ireland too made a change, though it was an enforced one – as Heather Payne withdrew from the warmup.

The Girls in Green were quick to catapult themselves into an early lead after just four minutes, with Arsenal’s Katie McCabe scoring a stunning Olimpico goal straight from the corner – sending the large Irish contingent in Perth into a moment of sheer euphoria.

Canada struggled to really build any momentum throughout the first half, yet found themselves level at the interval after Megan Connolly inadvertently turned Julia Grosso’s delivery past Courtney Brosnan – and the second half saw Bev Priestman’s side emerge as the stronger of the two nations.

Just five minutes into the half, Jordyn Huitema came close to completing a stunning comeback but for a phenomenal acrobatic save from Courtney Brosnan. The goalkeeper was rendered helpless mere minutes later though, as Adriana Leon did well to hold off Katie McCabe before firing home to put the Canadians in the lead.

Any hopes of a late comeback petered out as the clock continued to edge ever nearer to the final whistle – and as it rang, Ireland’s worst fears were confirmed as it became mathematically impossible for them to progress from Group B.

Australia v Nigeria (2-3)

With another colossal crowd flooding through the turnstiles in Brisbane keen to see the Matildas record their first win of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the fans were made to wait almost thirty minutes for the first real chance – as Hayley Raso drove her close-range effort wide of the post following Steph Catley’s corner.

With the half-time interval fast approaching, it was Emily van Egmond that provided the much-needed opener for Tony Gustavsson’s side. Filling in for Sam Kerr, the striker rushed onto the end of Caitlin Foord’s delivery following a poor clearance by Chiamaka Nnadozie – storming an effort past the ‘keeper to put the Matildas in control.

Yet with just seconds remaining before the break, Nigeria drew themselves level. Rasheedat Ajibade’s curling strike towards the far post was slammed home by Uchenna Kanu, who volleyed home an emphatic equaliser to cast doubts over a seemingly certain win for the Matildas.

Nigeria were the stronger side for large parts of the second half, and their continued pressure told in the 65th minute as an effort from Mackenzie Arnold granted the Super Falcons a golden opportunity to storm into the lead. Rasheedat Ajibade’s header was merely parried away by the goalkeeper, but only as far as Osinachi Ohale – who catapulted the Nigerians into a shock lead with a headed effort.

The match became even more incredulous less than ten minutes later, as Asisat Oshoala was played through on goal – but found herself forced wider than she would have hoped by the Australian defence. That wasn’t a problem for the Barça Femení star though, who made the best of a tight angle to squeeze the ball past Mackenzie Arnold and grant the Super Falcons a two-goal margin.

Tony Gustavsson’s side were able to clinch a goal back in stoppage time through an Alanna Kennedy header, but the Matildas weren’t able to overcome the two-goal deficit – and would head into their final match with everything to play for.

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Matchday Three

Ireland v Nigeria (0-0)

With Ireland merely playing for their pride against Nigeria, it would be fascinating to see how the Girls in Green performed when the shackles had been removed. For Nigeria, a win would grant them the opportunity to finish at the top of Group B and receive the theoretically favourable round-of-sixteen draw.

Katie McCabe found herself in a promising position early on and should really have handed Vera Pauw’s side an early lead, but the Arsenal star was only able to drag her effort wide of the woodwork – in Ireland’s only real chance of the first half.

It was the Super Falcons that offered the most offensively, with Asisat Oshoala played through on goal though the Barça striker too placed her strike wide of the target. Nigeria were keen to snatch an opener, with Uchenna Kanu forcing a fine save from Courtney Brosnan as the Irish ‘keeper was required to tip her effort onto the woodwork.

Ultimately, the Girls in Green lacked the creative spark required to clinch a win – though they’ll take comfort in their first-ever point at a major tournament. One thing is for certain: they’ll be back.

Canada v Australia (0-4)

With the knowledge that anything less than a win could leave their campaign in tatters, Australia started strongly in Melbourne and found the opener after just nine minutes through Hayley Raso. Having recently signed for Real Madrid, the Aussie’s effort looked to be disallowed for offside – though a VAR review spared her blushes and ensured the goal would stand.

The Matildas moved to the top spot in Group B with that goal, but they were still keen to bolster their goal difference. Neat linkup play between Steph Catley and Hayley Raso saw the winger granted an opportunity to curl an effort across the face of goal, though Kailen Sheridan was equal to her strike and was able to palm it away from danger.

Mary Fowler thought she’d bagged the second goal of the match for Tony Gustavsson’s side, pummelling an effort into the roof of the net following a scramble inside the box – but a VAR check found Ellie Carpenter to be fractionally offside, meaning the goal would be chalked off.

The second goal did follow soon after though, as Hayley Raso completed her brace following Kyra Cooney-Cross’ delivery from a corner. Kailen Sheridan wasn’t able to deal with the in-swinging delivery, allowing the ex-Manchester City star to slam an effort over the line from close range.

Mary Fowler was able to make amends for her earlier disallowed effort, working her way onto the scoresheet just before the hour mark. Fowler’s finish was simple, flicking the ball towards goal after Caitlin Ford’s cut-back pass – and a deflection off the post saw her strike trickle over the line.

Canada conceded the fourth goal in stoppage time, as the Matildas were awarded a penalty after Jessie Fleming was found to have stamped on Katrina Gorry’s foot. Steph Catley stepped up to strike, beating Kailen Sheridan to ensure the Matildas waltzed into the round-of-sixteen.

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The Standings

Despite being forced to play all three of their group stage games without Sam Kerr, Australia progress as the winners of Group B. They’ve not been short of goals, scoring six times across three matches – and they’ll hope that their star striker can return for the knockout action.

Nigeria also make it through to the round-of-sixteen, with a goalless draw against Ireland enough to confirm their progression. The Super Falcons have shown signs of promise throughout their three group stage fixtures, with Chiamaka Nnadozie the star player in Randy Waldrum’s side thus far.

Canada’s disappointing campaign has come to an end after that four-goal drubbing at the hands of Australia. Bev Priestman’s side would have been hoping to reach the knockout rounds at the minimum, but it appears that a lack of funding and poor support from the sport’s governing body in Canada has taken its toll.

As for Ireland, their Women’s World Cup dream comes to an end. Vera Pauw’s side have made history nonetheless, appearing at their first major tournament and recording their first ever points on the global stage – but the memorable moment will undoubtedly be Katie McCabe’s stunning Olimpico strike.