Sweden produced a drab opening Women’s World Cup performance on a gloomy night of mist and rain but managed to pull off a surprisingly difficult 2-1 victory to fend off plucky South Africa on Sunday in Wellington, New Zealand.
South Africa caught Sweden off guard when Hildah Magaia scored in the 48th minute to take a shocking lead in the Group G match while threatening to notch the first major upset of the tournament.
Sweden had dominated a scoreless first half with 71% of possession and eight corners, but there was something lacking in its performance. Sweden looked lost after halftime and South Africa took advantage when Thembi Kgatlana dropped behind the defense and struck a high shot that keeper Zecira Musovic could only parry.
Magaia hurled herself forward with such force she was carried into the goal along with the ball. She rolled into the back of the net and layed there for several moments and was eventually substituted.
Sweden, which hadn’t lost a World Cup group match since 2003 and was expected to ease past 54th-ranked South Africa, suddenly seemed in danger.
But Sweden got on the board in the 64th minute with Fridolina Rolfo’s equalizer. Amanda Ilestedt then produced a perfect header from a corner with a minute left in regulation to help Sweden escape at the end of an unimpressive opening game effort.
The Banyana Banyana had danced from their team bus into the dressing room before the match, and looked likely to dance their way out before Ilestedt’s late goal briefly suppressed that celebration. After time to reflect on its performance, South Africa was satisfied with its performance.
“They came off a bit disappointed because of the loss because we thought we could have got a better result,” South Africa coach Desiree Ellis said. “But the way we played, we are very proud of that. We stuck to the game plan. We knew we’d get goals on transition. We knew we’d get chances.
“We scored and that is our that is one of our strengths,” Ellis continued. “We have the speed up front, we have the skill upfront, we have this skill within the midfield and defensively we were really, really good and that is a big plus for us.”
Netherlands scores early then shuts down Portugal
Stefanie van der Gragt scored on a header in the 13th minute, leading the Netherlands to a 1-0 win over Portugal on Sunday in Dunedin, New Zealand, as the 2019 finalists began their tournament run.
The Dutch defender gathered herself as teammate Sherida Spitse lofted a corner kick her way, then headed the ball across the goal into the far side of the net. An offside review delayed the celebration.
The goal by the 30-year-old van der Gragt, who plans to retire after the Women’s World Cup, was the quickest first goal of the tournament. The Dutch controlled the tempo of the game — Portugal’s first shot of the match didn’t come until the 82nd minute.
The meeting with the Netherlands, ranked No. 9 in the world, marked Portugal’s first-ever tournament appearance.
On hand were 11,991 spectators, who were sheltered from the rain inside Dunedin’s covered Forsyth Barr Stadium, known as the Glasshouse, which has a capacity of 25,947.
Though most of the crowd appeared to be Dutch fans, a small but vocal group of Portuguese supporters with flags and team apparel banged on drums throughout the game, the beat echoing across the venue.
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