The uncertainty that comes with every World Cup has finally shown its face. Nigeria beat Australia, the co-host and tournament favorite. The Philippines defeated New Zealand. Norway, a fixture in the knockout rounds, has yet to win a game. The teams that have a second game know that they need to use it to take control of their own paths out of the group stage. And England needs that kind of statement on Friday if it wants to live up to its own expectations.
Beating Denmark handily would help England after its narrower win over Haiti, 1-0, last week.
England vs. Denmark
England may have won its opening game over Haiti, but for the reigning European Champions, such a close contest was not the way the Lionesses wanted to open their campaign.
Denmark, a team with big ambitions after missing the last three World Cups, is in a similar boat. It took 90 minutes for the Danes to score in their opening game and eventually come out on top against China, 1-0.
After Denmark defeated Norway, Japan and Sweden earlier this year, the Danes are hoping to build toward being a real contender. But England is under greater pressure to get another win to lead the group, as the Lionesses see themselves as favorites to win it all.
China vs. Haiti
Haiti may be the pre-eminent underdog of this tournament. The team has no corporate sponsors and could not play a game in its home country in the lead-up to the World Cup. Still, the Haitians held England to a single goal — a penalty — in their opening game of the tournament. Though Haiti lost, it went toe-to-toe with one of the best and better-resourced teams in the world, which in some ways could still be considered a win.
Now, Haiti faces China. The Chinese were once a dominant force in women’s soccer — they faced the United States in the 1999 World Cup final — but in the years since have faded from the world stage in women’s soccer. China is ranked at its highest point in seven years, and it is looking to capitalize on the moment and build toward future success.
Argentina vs. South Africa
South Africa shocked Sweden in its opening match of this World Cup, scoring in the 48th minute to take the lead over a team that is hoping to contend for the title. While the Swedes eventually eked out a win, 2-1, South Africa proved its pluckiness and will be looking for its first World Cup win when it takes on Argentina on Friday in Dunedin, New Zealand (Thursday night Eastern).
Argentina is facing a quick turnaround from its 1-0 loss to Italy on Monday. Playing in its fourth World Cup, Argentina is still hunting for its first-ever win. The Argentines have arguably their best shot at 3 points against South Africa, with top-ranked Sweden up next.