32 thoughts after the World Cup's first round (and a bit) of matches

Now that every nation has played at least one match, it's time to dig up some serious and not-so-serious observations for each one.

New Zealand

What goes up must come down. That heady time in Auckland on opening day suddenly feels like a long time ago after a sobering 1-0 defeat to the Philippines.

When it’s not your night, it’s not your night. A disallowed goal for an offside call decided by minutia, a shot off the post, and a worldie save by the keeper. The Kiwis couldn’t find a way on Matchday Two.

Do keep an eye on New Zealand winger Indiah-Paige Riley, who has the potential to be a real breakout player at this World Cup. Her seven tackles successful tackles in the 1-0 win against Norway was more than any other player had in the tournament. Against the Philippines, she was removed at halftime. Despite connecting on 96% of her passes, she wasn’t direct enough for coach Jitka Klimkova.


I can’t get over how much Switzerland passed the ball and dictated play in its 2-0 win over the Philippines. No team has had more completed passes (683) or sequences of 10+ passes (15) than the Swiss. Maybe it’s because of the opposition. Maybe it’s too early to hand out the flowers.

I was quite low on the Swiss coming into this one, especially with Lia Walti potentially being rusty coming back from injury, but they are well-poised to advance from Group A.

The Philippines

Chasing the ball around for 90 minutes isn’t always a lot of fun. But taking your chance and scoring a historic first-ever World Cup goal is quite the sensation.

Take a bow Sarina Bolden, the California-born Filipina who will forever be in the history books for scoring the winning goal against New Zealand. The celebration reverberated around the world on television screens and smartphones. It will be played and played, over and over again.

It’s a brilliant leap from Bolden, and although the Kiwi goalkeeper could definitely have done better, it’s a testament to the power in the header that she couldn’t get a hold of it. It was the Philippines’ only shot on target of the match.


Your phone buzzes. You check the lock screen. The preview of the message reads: “Norway: I’m sorry. I really am this time. Just pick up the phone.”

Whatever you do, don’t take Norway back. They have hurt you too many times and you are too good for them. There are plenty more nations in the sea. Move on.

The vibes are all wrong for the extremely talented Scandinavians. Get Marie Kondo in there to sort out this mess.


Another 90 minutes without Sam Kerr feels pretty tough for the Matildas. Despite having the better of the Ireland match, they didn’t manage a single shot on target from open play. Although a non-penalty xG of 0.85 (17th) isn’t dreadful.

So who can fix Australia’s attacking problem? There aren’t many options and Caitlin Foord (4 shots | 0.3 xG) is still the best bet right now to lead the line. For the Nigeria match, I would like to see Mary Fowler play between the lines more. In the opening match, she didn’t have a single shot or key pass. Worryingly, she too has picked up an injury in training.


It was devastating to see teenager Deborah Ajibola Abiodun get sent off, in second-half stoppage time, on her World Cup debut for Nigeria. Of course, it was the right call, for a dangerous, high, and fully-studded challenge.

The young midfielder was dismissed after having a brilliant game disrupting the middle and defensive thirds. She has the joint-most dribblers tackled of any player at the World Cup so far. She will be thoroughly missed against the Matildas.


Does anyone need a new buddy cop movie or a couple of actresses for another CSI spin-off?

On social media, both of Canada’s starting centrebacks, Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles, said they would be working in law enforcement if they weren’t footballers. The former saying outright that “She’d be a cop” and the latter revealing her love of criminology would lead her to detective work.

Republic of Ireland

With their World Cup debut - in front of 75,000 spectators and hundreds of millions more at home - out of the way, my wish for Ireland is to chill out. Breathe. Take a moment. Let’s all stream a B*Witched album.

The referee in the Australia match was pretty relaxed and on another day would have called more fouls and shown more cards. Quite frankly it’s amazing to me that Katie McCabe only committed one foul and drew four from the Matildas. There’s no way Ireland get out of this group without her, and if she picks up a suspension it’s game over.


Aitana Bonmati’s Ballon D’or campaign will really round into shape with a starry showing at the World Cup. Her insouciant goal against Costa Rica was the perfect start but the likes of Sophia Smith ( 2 goals | 1 assist) and Ary Borges (3 goals | 1 assist) have taken away some of the spotlight with more eye-catching individual performances.

As a sign of her commitment to the Bonmati Ballon D’Or campaign, she dropped a timely piece in the Player’s Tribune today. Titled ‘10 Things You Need To Know Me’ the personal essay is a fun way to get to know the metronomic midfielder a little better. I won’t spoil it for you.


Okay, Japan! So much of the hesitation to not get carried away with the Nadeshiko’s chances at this World Cup was how much they have struggled to score.

At this year’s SheBelieves Cup, they played some of the most technical football, probed the box well, and got plenty of overloads from the wing-backs, but just couldn’t finish.

Whacking five goals past Zambia is massive for this team. Zoom in and you’ll notice Japan still underperformed its xG (6.5) by 1.5 but overall this was a big confidence boost for the attack.

Costa Rica

Do we hold out any hope of Costa Rica causing an upset against Japan? With Rocky Rodriguez still recovering from a knee injury it seems unlikely.

Some flowers for Daniela Solera, though. The six-footer saved Jenni Hermoso’s first half penalty, leads the tournament in saves (10) and kept the scoreline quite acceptable against the Spanish. A breathless match where she was kept very very busy. I would welcome some LigaMX Femenil teams making a call to Sporting San Jose to inquire about her services.


I’m worried about Zambia. Now down to their third goalkeeper, Eunice Sakala, after an injury and a sending-off, and it feels like the Africans’ once hopeful World Cup could be in tatters.

Whatever the score against Spain, give me a Barba Banda breakaway goal and things will be looking up.


Finally, we have a song for England’s women’s team that is an absolute tune. And no, not that one.

I’m not talking about Hope FC’s labour of love ‘Call Me A Lioness’. As much as I love many of the 11 artists who put that track together (including Mel C) it falls a bit flat for a footy anthem. Like an open can of coke you’ve decided to sip the morning after.

The real song for England this summer is the instantly addictive ‘Like A Lioness’ by Ms. Banks in this new Nike FC advertisement. The sound of the summer it is. Please hit me up if you can locate the full song rather than just this snippet.

@nikeCelebrate self-expression. Big up your people. Take the game to unbelievable heights. #LikeaLioness

Tiktok failed to load.

Enable 3rd party cookies or use another browser


The most mid team of the tournament so far. After 16 years away from the World Cup there’s high hopes this Danish creates some happy memories.

If they don’t up their game, they could be heading out at the Group Stage with Haiti advancing in their place. However, getting three points on the board is huge. Just because the Red and Whites weren’t convincing against China doesn’t mean they won’t evolve into a more cohesive team. I would love to see Signe Brunn and Pernille Harder start a match together.


Do yourself a favour and go get the Haiti kit. Like now! Saeta sports is selling kits with the players names on the back, which hasn’t always been the case when it comes to teams at this World Cup.

I have already picked one up myself, and would like to shout out general manager Sandra who went above and beyond to make sure I got the right size. Durmonay, No.6, in blue. A classique.


Wang Shuang wasn’t fit enough to start for the Steel Roses but came off the bench in the second half against Denmark. When she’s on the pitch, combining with Wu Chengsu, you started to see some great underlapping runs and movement from the midfield and forwards. Especially when they kept the ball on the floor and played to feet.

China attempted the 11th most long balls of any team (74) but ranked 28th in accuracy (24%). The height and physicality matchup against Denmark wasn’t favourable but they still managed to hold their own for passages.


Excuse me, but what the hell was Vlatko’s jacket? It was very distracting to see the USA head coach in a brand of jacket that I do not recognize one bit. Let alone the fact this piece of kit didn’t appear to be Nike (the USA’s outfitter) either.

Maybe it’s some subtle Nike branding or underground line of winter wear. Or maybe Vlatko was just fed up on a cold day. Finally, he felt compelled to wear whatever he wanted.

But seriously, where did this jacket come from and why does no one else have it?


In the 2022-23 season, goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar recorded 15 clean sheets and conceded just six goals in 20 matches. Everyone’s favourite new young goalkeeper, who just signed for Aston Villa, is a fun pick for the golden glove Down Under.

The 23-year-old didn’t have a lot to do against Portugal. Just one save, a post-shot xG of 0.18. But the USA match coming up should give us a much better idea of what she’s made of.


I’m afraid I’m going to need more Jessica Silva please. Seven take-ons with a 42% success rate was a nice appetizer but I really hope the forward is allowed to cook against Vietnam. This World Cup deserves a skills and tricks highlight reel.

Zero shots and zero chances created was disappointing in the opening tussle with Holland. I’ve often felt that Portugal play their best when the pressure is off. And Silva is one of the most entertaining players around.


Brace for more coaches aesthetics chat. I am obsessed with Mai Duc Chung’s stopwatch. As the oldest coach ever at a World Cup, it checks out that he would bring with him some analogue gear.

It’s giving P.E. teacher vibes, and I don’t hate it. Too long have we been trusting our smart phones and Casio watches. Why not get a nice designated piece of plastic that you can hang around your neck and count the milliseconds on. Not only is it practical, but it also sends an obvious message to the ref of “I’m watching, I’m on it. I know exactly how much time is left.” Retro. We love it.


So how many times did we all cry watching Brazil? Man, Ary Borges celebration for the first, eh? That third goal, eh?

It was all so gorgeous and intense. Extra touches. Extra everything.

Sometimes I feel like the zeitgeist can get quite sycophantic about Brazilian football and then you watch them turn it on and you discover it’s true. It’s all true. It is such a pure and satisfying version of the game.

“I think you remember everything you did to be able to be here,” a tearful Borges said to broadcasters about the emotion she showed against Panama. “It was a day of mixed feelings. In which I was happy and I cried. I was anxious to start the match. And I think I remembered my family, where I come from right? And being able to be here, it’s a dream.”


With every passing hour since Jamaica drew 0-0 France I am closer and closer to calling clubs around Europe and asking them if they have thought about signing Deneisha Blackwood.

The full back was a well deserved player of the match. Tireless on the right wing, shutting down waves of French attacks.

Currently playing with French D2 side GPSO Issy, I really think Blackwood could do a job in a more competitive league. She was never really given a big enough opportunity in the NWSL.


As Herve Renard stared out into the rainy Sydney air, like the owner of a Michelin star restaurant who had just closed up for the night, and was eagerly awaiting his first Pastis, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was lost?

Lost in the process of designing his team. Lost in the moment. Cut adrift of strategy.

Injuries have been unkind to the France boss. But his team looked pretty simplistic against Jamaica, sending in cross after to cross to no avail. Just 11 of France’s 44 crosses were successful on Matchday One. New ideas, si vous plait.


For 18 and a bit minutes I was quite impressed with Panama. They were doing their best to smother a very good Brazil side, who were knocking it about very nicely.

It all started to unravel in the 19th minute when they let Borges have a free header. Until that moment, you really couldn’t say anything bad about their low block or structure to try and deal with the South Americans. Heads dropped.

I would like to see Panama believe in themselves a bit more. I know it’s easy for someone writing stupid words on their sofa to say. But this team was competing until they weren’t. That little bit of drop off matters. They’ll need to stay at 100% against Jamaica.


A lot of people’s sneaky pick to go very far in this tournament. As stupid as it sounds, I’m almost more impressed that they managed to get a last minute win over South Africa despite not playing their best. It’s an old cliche, but that’s what the best teams do.

In terms of physicality and pressing, Sweden can match anyone at this tournament. No one forced more pressed sequences (37) than the Swedes on Matchday one.


Another mid European side who seem to be at the end of the cycle. Head coach Milena Bertolini appears to have one foot out the door and before she goes she’s tying her legacy to 16-year-old Giulia Dragoni.

The FC Barcelona midfielder looked fine in the win over Argentina. Not exceptional, but not deficient or out of place. There’s a lot of hype around the young player and it might need to be toned down a bit in order to keep reality in check.

That being said, the teenager had the highest pass completion of any midfielder/forward in the match (86.4%) and ranked fourth for passes into the final third with four.


Even though Argentina’s home kit is mostly white, it felt odd to me that they would play Italy in it. Blue and white vs. dark blue felt off. I can’t quite put my finger it.

With the meeting with the Azzurri out the way, I do hope we get to see Argentina’s black away kit at some point. Considering that both Sweden and South Africa play in yellow, there’s a good chance we will. It will be a crime against football if it goes unworn.

South Africa

A tad unlucky really. South Africa are currently the only team to have taken a lead and lost a match at the 2023 World Cup. Tied with Norway, they are also the only team to come away with 1.2 xG or higher and get zero points on Matchday One.

Tricky Racing Louisville winger Thembi Kgatlana helped create the opening goal and should be good value at this World Cup for pulling the seams and dribbling into the final third.


Who knew Alex Popp would be able to turn a pretty cheesy phone gesture into a touching tribute to those at home?

The German forward said that she drew inspiration from ‘E.T.’ and his iconic line “phone home” for her goal celebration in the 6-0 win over Morocco. The Wolfsburg player said it was a tribute to all the people that love and support the team thousands of miles back in Germany.

[Edited, the celebration was also a tribute to friends and family who had passed away, including Popp’s father in 2022]


The Linda Caicedo hype train has rolled into its third World Cup in that past 12 months. And there are no signs of it slowing down.

The 18-year-old Real Madrid forward was as devilish as ever, weaving in and out of her South Korean markers on Tuesday. The cherry on the cake was her first-ever World Cup goal from outside the box.

Age is just a number. Caicedo plays with a confidence and maturity that takes most players a much longer time to develop. She’s happiest with the team on her back. When the pressure is loaded on her shoulders.

South Korea

There was a good chance that Colombia vs. South Korea was going to decide who would progress from Group H alongside Germany. Thus, the Asians 2-0 defeat to the South Americans is a big blow to any hopes of making it out of the group.

The Taegeuk Warriors will need at least four points (likely six) from their final two matches against Germany and Morocco to advance. Or they’ll need Morocco to do them a big favour against Colombia.

16-year-old Korean-American Casey Phair did make history on Tuesday by becoming the youngest player ever to play at a women’s World Cup.


I don’t think this result will wreck the first-ever Arab nation to compete at a women’s World Cup because it’s a lesson. The own goals will sting, but even a heavy defeat is a building block to improve on.

The biggest improvement will have to come in possession. Germany went hunting for the ball and Morocco can’t afford to be as unsettled when pressed. Play it out earlier and get the ball away if you need to. The North Africans did get their body on the line where they could. 15 blocks was the third most of any team in the opening round of matches.