After an off day, the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup resumed Thursday with four matches in Groups A and B.
The major story of the day involved tournament favorite Germany, which could only muster a 1-1 draw with Norway in a Group B match in Ottawa, Ontario. In the late game, Thailand eliminated Ivory Coast with a 3-2 victory that included plenty of refereeing controversy.
All four teams remain alive in Group A after China beat the Netherlands and Canada drew with New Zealand.
Here are the key takeaways from Day 6 at the Women's World Cup.
Germany isn't invincible after all
Following the 10-0 dismantling of Ivory Coast in its opening match, Germany appeared nothing short of invincible. But after being held to a 1-1 draw by European rival Norway, Silvia Neid's team looked like something else entirely.
In a word, the Germans were beatable.
To be fair, the first half against Norway seemed a continuation of the Ivory Coast game, with Germany creating chance after chance. Dzsenifer Marozsan, making her first start after being rested in the opener, pulled the strings in central midfield, and Anja Mittag scored a sixth-minute opener after Norway goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth spilled a Marozsan shot.
From there, another rout felt inevitable. Marozsan continued to find plenty of space and continued to create chances. But after that early breakthrough, Germany's forwards lost their finishing touch. By the time Norway registered its first shot on target in the 43rd minute, Germany had taken 19, as per ESPN's Paul Carr.
But the score remained 1-0. Football journalist Andrew Gibney had this to say:
The direction of the game changed abruptly in the second half. Norway began applying pressure to Germany's midfield, and to Marozsan in particular, limiting their opponents' time with the ball. With Germany visibly tiring, the Grasshoppers scored a deserved equalizer through Maren Mjede's perfectly struck free-kick in the 61st minute.
Complicating matters for Germany was the injury-necessitated substitution of Simone Laudehr from the match. With Melanie Leupolz unavailable following an injury of her own against Ivory Coast, Neid had to call on Lena Lotzen to fill the hole in Germany's midfield.
It didn't work out, and from that point, the European champions looked bereft of ideas as they tried to break down Norway's defense.
As Kevin McCauley noted at SB Nation:
There was also little to no pressure on Maroszan in the first half, and she was free to do whatever she wanted. Her long shot was what led to Anja Mittag's opening goal, and she was free to play aggressive, attacking passes throughout the period. But once Norway started closing her down more aggressively, she had to make safer passes, and her teammates couldn't create scoring opportunities like she should. It didn't help that Alexandra Popp, the central attacking midfielder ahead of Maroszan, was poor for the second straight game.
If Leupolz and Laudehr have serious injuries and can't return for the knockout stages, Germany are in trouble.
By full time, Norway fully deserved the 1-1 draw—and suddenly Germany looked vulnerable.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Norway coach Even Pellerud said:
At half-time, for me, it was not about changing the game plan, but more about changing the attitude of the team. (Solveig Gulbransen's half-time entrance) changed the whole outlook and approach of her team-mates—they were confident passing in the midfield to her, and she has a good presence. The end result was fair, but we were lucky—(Germany) could have killed this game in the first half.
Even after the draw, first place in Group B is probably still assured for Germany. Neither Thailand nor Ivory Coast is on the level of the group's two European sides (as the opening round of fixtures showed), and it's unlikely Norway will be able to make up Germany's advantage in goal differential.
But while it's highly likely Germany will advance to the knockout stage as a group winner, the team's aura of invincibility is gone.
Group A is going down to the wire
Canada and New Zealand played out a scoreless draw in Edmonton, Alberta. The teams hit the woodwork three times between them.
Ahead of kickoff, the talking points revolved around the coaches. Canada's John Herdman previously led New Zealand, which is now managed by Herdman's former assistant Tony Readings. That storyline faded as the game progressed, and at full time, both sides must have harbored serious concerns about scoring.
In two matches, Canada has scored just once—a Christine Sinclair penalty in second-half stoppage time against China. New Zealand has yet to find the back of the net in this tournament.
Both teams came close on Thursday. New Zealand's Amber Hearn struck the crossbar with a penalty in the 32nd minute and then hooked a shot just wide of the post early in the second half. For Canada, Sinclair struck the bar with a volley—though New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler got a touch to the shot—and Sophie Schmidt mis-hit a free kick off the woodwork as well.
In the latter stages, it was Canada creating the best chances. Melissa Tancredi fired straight at Nayler from a promising position in the 76th minute, and Sinclair bounced an effort narrowly wide nine minutes later.
The draw means all four teams in Group A remain alive in the chase for the knockout stage. Canada tops the table with four points, followed by China and the Netherlands with three each. New Zealand is last with one point but can still move on, perhaps even as group winners.
Everything will come down to the final matchday. Canada needs only a draw against the Netherlands on Monday to win the group. New Zealand must beat China to progress.
China rewarded for attacking ambition
In Group A, China earned its first World Cup win since the 2007 tournament, beating the Netherlands 1-0 on Wang Lisi's late goal.
It was a reversal from China's opener, a 1-0 loss to Canada in which the Stone Roses defended well but lost to a Christine Sinclair penalty in stoppage time. After sitting back against the hosts, China took a more aggressive approach against the Netherlands. Hao Wei's team created more chances but, until Wang's winner, could not finish any of its several opportunities. Football writer Christopher Atkins had this observation:
In the end, though, the goal came and the win was deserved. The victory took China up to three points, meaning Group A remains tightly packed heading into the final matchday of group play.
"Our players were under a lot of pressure after losing the first match," Hao told FIFA.com. "Today they showcased their true abilities and I am so proud of them."
Hao added, "We should have scored more although this team is very young and lacks international experience. However, they executed the game plan well and I’m delighted with their performance."
Refereeing blunders benefit Thailand
Thailand defeated Ivory Coast 3-2 in a game of World Cup firsts, but although the milestones should have been the main story, poor refereeing was instead.
Two of Thailand's goals—Orathai Srimanee's header in the 26th minute and Thanatta Chawong's close-range finish in the second half—should not have counted. In both instances, a Thailand player was clearly offside in the buildup, but in both cases, the goal stood.
As a result of the match, Ivory Coast was eliminated from contention for the knockout stage. Les Elephantes hit the woodwork three times. Thailand still has a chance to advance as a third-placed team, and could even win Group B—though that would require an unlikely victory over Germany.
Ivory Coast, coming off a 10-0 loss at the hands of Germany, took the lead in just the fourth minute through the diminutive Ange Nguessan. It was the Africans' first-ever World Cup goal.
But Thailand equalized midway through the half through Srimanee's header, which was the Asian side's first World Cup strike. Srimanee added another header in first-half stoppage time to give Thailand the lead.
After Chawong put Thailand ahead 3-1, Ivory Coast pulled a goal back through Josee Nahi. But it wasn't enough to keep Thailand from its first World Cup points and win—despite waves of pressure by the African side in the closing minutes.
For Thailand, there was genuine cause to celebrate, but the refereeing errors cast a cloud over the accomplishment. Two of the goals should not have counted, and Ivory Coast will have genuine reason to feel aggrieved.
It was not the first instance of the officials affecting the outcome of a match at this tournament. On Tuesday, Mexico had a late winner ruled out against Colombia for a questionable foul. As the World Cup progresses, the quality of officiating will have to improve. The stakes are too high for these mistakes to keep happening.