Women’s World Cup is taking shape with shocks and highlights as it nears the end of the group stage.
Some players have established themselves as ones to watch, like Colombia star Linda Caicedo, who has made her team one of the tournament surprises. Colombia picked up an upset win over Germany, and Nigeria upset co-host Australia — just two of the games that showed the gap has closed at top level women’s soccer.
But co-host New Zealand was eliminated, and other big teams are in danger of not advancing headed into the final few days of group play.
The Associated Press takes a look at some of the highlights and lowlights so far:
GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT
There have been a number of contenders and Bia Zaneratto’s strike against Panama after a sweeping move from Brazil stands out as the most complete goal so far.
Ireland’s Katie McCabe scored directly from a corner kick against Canada, and England’s Lauren James curled in a long range effort against Denmark.
Even so, Caicedo’s solo goal in Colombia’s dramatic 2-1 win against Germany is the pick of the bunch. With a flash of skill, she beat two German players in the box before lashing a shot into the top corner as the Sydney crowd dominated by Colombia fans went wild.
MOMENT OF THE TOURNAMENT
It has to be Manuela Vanegas’ late winner for Colombia against Germany. Alexandra Popp seemed to position two-time champion Germany for a draw with an 89th-minute penalty.
But Vanegas’ header in the 97th minute gave Colombia a World Cup upset.
Norway looked down and out after an opening game loss to co-host New Zealand and a goalless draw against Switzerland. With star player Ada Hegerberg injured, the odds were beginning to stack up against the Norwegians going into their final Group A match against the Philippines.
But three goals within 31 minutes set up a 6-0 rout that saw Norway advance to the knockout rounds in second place. The Norway win knocked New Zealand out of the tournament, making the Football Ferns the first host to be eliminated in group play in tournament history.
Caicedo’s standout performances aren’t a surprise to those who have followed her career. The Real Madrid forward has long-been tipped to be one of the biggest stars in women’s soccer.
She hasn’t disappointed in her first World Cup and has inspired Colombia to back-to-back wins with goals in each game.
England coach Sarina Wiegman unleashed Chelsea forward James from the start in the Lionesses’ second game against Denmark, and she made a quick impression. Collecting the ball outside the area after six minutes, she swept a curling effort past Lene Christensen.
Haiti’s Melchie Dumornay has shown flashes of the talent that earned her a move to French powerhouse Lyon, while 19-year-old Aoba Fujino has become the youngest player to score at a World Cup for Japan’s men’s or women’s teams.
Casey Phair, a 16 year old, became the youngest-ever player to appear in a senior soccer World Cup when she was a second-half substitute for South Korea against Colombia.
While youngsters have capitalized on their chance to shine, some of the established names have yet to make their mark.
There have been differing reasons for that.
Sam Kerr’s calf injury robbed Australia of its star striker for its opening two games, while Hegerberg’s groin injury has cut her playing time for Norway.
Alex Morgan, who was the co-leading scorer at the last World Cup, is still finding her footing in the United States’ new look attack.
Record international scorer Christine Sinclair was benched for Canada’s second game and is still waiting for her first goal of the tournament, while Brazil great Marta has also been used sparingly.
New Zealand kicked the tournament off with a 1-0 win against Norway, but couldn’t keep up its momentum and went on to lose by the same score to the Philippines to set up the co-host’s early exit.
Jamaica’s 0-0 draw with fifth-ranked France was described by its coach Lorne Donaldson as the country’s greatest soccer result, for men or women. But the biggest surprise could be yet to come if Jamaica can avoid defeat against Brazil to advance to the round of 16.
Colombia’s dramatic late winner against Germany, meanwhile, was one of the great upsets.
The goals have been flowing for Spain and Japan, teams that both advanced from the group stage with a game to spare. Both teams secured 5-0 wins against Zambia and both have produced technically excellent displays.
Germany was on a high after its 6-0 rout of Morocco, but was humbled by Colombia.
Sweden routed Italy 5-0, while Norway found its scoring touch just in time against the Philippines.
ONES TO WATCH
Some of the favorites have made underwhelming starts. The two-time defending champion United States, England, Germany and France have not been totally convincing in group play and the tournament still looks wide open.
Colombia looks legitimate, and with Kerr back in action, Australia could become a contender.
The Netherlands look like serious contenders, while Spain and Japan have impressed. Brazil has shown flashes, but faces a fight to advance from the group stage.
Nigeria has shown it is dangerous, and Sweden has picked up back-to-back wins.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
More AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup
James Robson, The Associated Press