Four matches were on the schedule Monday at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup as Groups C and D began play.
Japan and the United States, who met in the final in 2011, both notched wins in their respective groups. Nigeria and Sweden played out the most entertaining match of the tournament so far, a 3-3 draw in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Cameroon made the perfect start in its debut World Cup.
Keep reading for the takeaways from Day 3 of the Women's World Cup.
Group D looks like the best of the tournament
With three teams in the top 10 of FIFA's latest world rankings, Group D rightly earned its billing as this tournament's group of death. Monday's matches, however, suggested that it could also be known as the group of nonstop thrills.
In the two games, the four teams combined for 10 goals and produced some of the most exciting soccer of the tournament. All four teams are strong, and despite what the 3-1 scoreline would suggest, they are all closely matched.
The U.S., to be fair, does appear to be the best team of the group despite struggling for long stretches against Australia. The Matildas dominated the world's second-ranked squad for much of the first half, but the Americans triumphed in the end thanks to star power and superior fitness. By full time, with the U.S. rolling and Australia clearly fatigued, it was obvious which team was better, even if it took a while for Jill Ellis' side to show it.
"I don’t think we played particularly well in the first half," Ellis told FIFA.com. "But I was pleased that we grew in the game. The fan support was phenomenal. Our players settled in in the second half, which was much better. That’s something we can build upon."
Elsewhere, Nigeria showed no fear in attacking Sweden, coming away with a 3-3 draw after a highly entertaining game. Few would have predicted that result ahead of the tournament, but now Nigeria appear fully capable of playing with any team in the world.
Through one round of matches, the U.S. leads the group with three points. The Americans will likely advance, since the top four third-place finishers move on in addition to all of the group winners and runners-up. But beyond that, it's anyone's guess which team (or teams) will join them.
Issues remain for the U.S.
The U.S. won the match and took the points, with two-goal scorer Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Hope Solo starring. But issues remain for the two-time world champions.
Chief among those is an imbalance in midfield, where Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd were overrun by Australia. Both Holiday and Lloyd are attack-minded players, and that inevitably left gaps in the midfield, which the Matildas repeatedly exploited.
Ellis never addressed the problem directly, instead introducing Tobin Heath for left midfielder Christen Press in the second half. Morgan Brian, a midfielder with a more defensive approach, remained on the bench until the 86th minute, after the result was no longer in doubt. The other substitution was purely offensive, with Alex Morgan replacing Sydney Leroux.
The imbalance didn't cost the U.S. in its opening match, but it is an issue that Ellis will have to address at some point.
Meanwhile, captain Abby Wambach—the team's all-time leading scorer with 182 goals—missed a pair of clear chances. The first, a back-post header following a Rapinoe free-kick in the first half, was especially surprising. Wambach was completely unmarked on the play but somehow placed her header wide of the target.
It might just be a bit of rust. But if Wambach struggles again in the next game, against Sweden, Ellis might have to consider her options.
Finally, Rapinoe and Holiday drew bookings during the match, meaning both will have to be on their best behavior for quite some time. Under FIFA rules, two bookings over the course of the group stage, the round of 16 and the quarterfinals will result in a one-match suspension. Thus Rapinoe and Holiday could miss a game by virtue of picking up two yellow cards in five matches.
It's a bad rule, and it will surely hurt many teams as the tournament progresses.
Nigeria winning fans with thrilling style
The first match of the group of death turned out to be the most entertaining encounter of the World Cup so far as Sweden and Nigeria drew 3-3. Sweden took advantage of poor set-piece defending to claim a two-goal lead at halftime, but Nigeria hit back with two quick goals early in the second half. Both teams then notched well-worked strikes before full time.
The result proved most beneficial to the U.S., which now stands alone atop the group, but the real winners were the fans, who were treated to a thrilling, end-to-end contest for 90 minutes.
Nigeria was marginally the better side during the opening minutes, which saw plenty of action at both ends. The speedy Asisat Oshoala posed a considerable threat to Sweden's slow-moving back line, repeatedly making dangerous runs into the box with the ball at her feet. But the Africans came undone on set pieces and in the process displayed an old weakness of disorganization.
Sweden's first goal came off a 21st-minute corner, with Nigeria's Desire Oparanozie putting the final touch on the ball after Nilla Fischer had headed it on. Ten minutes later, Nigeria looked disorganized again as Fischer tucked in a close-range finish at the back post following another corner.
Nigeria showed promise early in the match, but the team came apart too easily on manageable set pieces. In the group of death, which could see a team eliminated by the slimmest of margins, that could be a serious flaw.
But the Super Falcons weren't finished just yet. Ngozi Okobi pulled a goal back in the 50th minute, showing off a superb first touch before finishing coolly from just inside the box. Only three minutes later, Oshoala made it 2-2 by out-muscling and out-pacing Fischer before slotting past Hedvig Lindahl.
Sweden retook the lead with a fine team move, finished by Linda Sembrant in the 60th minute. It was the first time the Europeans showed enough attacking quality in open play to break Nigeria down, a fact that should concern coach Pia Sundhage.
But Nigeria equalized again three minutes from time as Okobi split the defense with a superb pass to Francisca Ordega, who held her nerve and deposited her shot through Lindahl's legs.
And so the match ended 3-3. By full time, the world was rightfully lauding Nigeria's thrilling attacking style. The Super Falcons are young and perhaps a bit naive in defending, but they play exciting soccer. Goalkeeper Precious Dede was a liability on set pieces, but in Okobi and Oshoala, Nigeria has two of the best young players in the tournament.
Okobi, 21, finished with a goal and two assists. Oshoala, 20, scored once but easily could have had a hat trick. The latter was probably the best player on the pitch, but the only other contender was the former. For what it's worth, both of Nigeria's young stars far out-performed Swedish striker Lotta Schelin, a highly respected and established star on the international level. The BBC's Alistair Magowan had this to say:
Nigeria, ranked 33rd in the world, might have been considered the odd team out in Group D before the tournament. But Monday's match showed they can play with any team in the world.
Sweden, meanwhile, escaped with a draw thanks in large part to their superiority in organization and corners. But Sundhage's side created too little in open play and will have plenty of concerns heading into Friday's match with the U.S., a team that prides itself on dominating set pieces.
Cameroon completes Africa's good day
After Ivory Coast's humiliating 10-0 loss to Germany on Sunday, African teams rebounded with two impressive results on Monday. Nigeria drew 3-3 with favored Sweden, and, in Group C, Cameroon demolished Ecuador 6-0 in a matchup of World Cup newcomers.
Gaelle Enganamouit stole the show with a virtuosic display for Cameroon, scoring a hat trick on her birthday and contributing to the other three goals as well. The blonde-haired attacker did it all, with strong finishing, incisive passing and excellent hold-up play.
The African side converted three penalties, including Enganamouit's third strike deep into stoppage time. We won't know for sure how good Cameroon is until Friday's match against Japan, but Monday's big win was the perfect start to the Indomitable Lionesses' debut World Cup campaign.
Bachmann wows fans, but Japan starts with a win
Aya Miyama scored the only goal from the penalty spot as defending champion Japan started its title defense with a 1-0 victory over Switzerland in Group C.
But while the Japanese won the game, Switzerland's Ramona Bachmann was the star of the game. The 24-year-old forward did not score, but she thrilled the crowd at BC Place Stadium with electric runs at the Japanese defense throughout the match.
Japan missed a number of opportunities in the first half but took the lead through Miyama's 29th-minute penalty. Most onlookers expected coach Norio Sasaki's team to take the three points easily, but Bachmann and Switzerland put up stiff resistance in Vancouver.
The Swiss are making their World Cup debut along with Group C rivals Cameroon and Ecuador. Of those three, Cameroon initially appears strongest, but Switzerland will no doubt make a strong case to advance to the knockout stage.
Japan, meanwhile, will have hoped to win more comfortably. But the win was the primary aim, and the next goal will be to secure progress out of the group.