It is a make-or-break match for the United States at the Women's World Cup in Canada as the Americans seek to win Group D against Nigeria in Vancouver.
The USWNT lead the way at the top of the group—on four points—but a surprise draw or defeat against the Nigerians would open the door for Australia or Sweden to leapfrog the favourites.
Nigeria looked buoyant in their opening battle against the Swedes, drawing the match and scoring three times, but the United States will surely be too good for them on Tuesday night.
Here is how you can watch this vital World Cup match.
Date: Tuesday, June 16
Time: 8 p.m. (ET), 1 a.m. Wednesday (BST)
TV Info: Fox Sports 1 (U.S. only), BBC Red Button (U.K only)
With only eight sides eliminated from the tournament at the group stages, the battle is now on for who will take the favoured place of group winners in the knockout phase—and it is certainly a status the USWNT want.
Topping Group D will see the Americans face one of the third-placed qualifiers, but second place will mean a disaster—being forced to face the might of Brazil.
The USA would still be favourites in such an encounter with the South Americans, but they would rather avoid having to face the brilliance of five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta.
At 29 years old, Marta is ready for one last huge World Cup, and taking down the Americans would be sufficient motivation for her.
The USA have looked steady in their first two games, but they are certainly not in top gear. This could be said of all of the major teams in Canada—both Germany and France have suffered—but Abby Wambach and her teammates will be hoping for a smooth progression.
Nigeria certainly do not have the defensive steel to resist the Americans if they find their best form, but they have the youthful exuberance to cause problems.
However, the biggest issue could be the artificial surface in Vancouver—it has often been seen in the past how not playing on grass can change an expected result.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated was blunt in his assessment of the surface:
Wambach also passed comment on the potential playing conditions in her team's third match, saying her side would have scored more goals on grass in their opening games, per Laken Litman of USA Today:
The two headers that I had that I missed in the first game I think I score if we’re on grass. My focus was on getting my head on the end of a cross. I did. Goalkeeper made a great save. If it’s on grass, I think it goes in. I'm way more carefree (on grass), I throw my body.
I’m not worried about anything [on grass]. There’s no second-guessing. The ball as it comes off my head against Sweden, it’s a dry turf and bounces higher. If it hits the grass, it’s harder for a goalkeeper to react. So if the ball bounces higher, the goalkeeper has more time to react off the turf.
The previous game, I don’t completely lay out and commit to those headers and that’s why they glance off my head rather than me contacting them. So for me, I definitely think that the United States has more goals if we’re playing on grass.
Wambach continued to explain the technical issues of playing on a synthetic pitch, forcing the USWNT to play a different game to the one they normally would. She explained these are factors fans may not understand at first glance, but they do cause the team additional headaches.
Wambach is correct in this assessment and it is certainly one of the more controversial issues to face this World Cup. Questions must be asked if this would be allowed to happen in the men's game—although artificial turf has improved dramatically over the past decade.
USWNT coach Jill Ellis might have been tempted to shuffle the pack for this match as she looks to rest some of her star names, but the result against Nigeria is now too vital to gamble on.
Brazil are very beatable if the Americans run into them, but there is a much easier route to the quarter-finals and beyond—if they win the group.
Shocks have already happened in this competition, but Nigeria will have to reproduce their goalscoring performance against Sweden to get anywhere near the standard needed—and this is wholly unlikely.
The game should be a regulation win for the USWNT, and it is vital that Alex Morgan gets additional game time under her belt in preparation for bigger obstacles.